UK Anti-Doping has called for a meeting with Arsène Wenger over his concerns about drugs in football and said it would be naive to believe the sport does not have a problem.
The Ukad chief executive, Nicole Sapstead, who also said it could play a role in overhauling Russia’s discredited anti-doping system in the wake of the IAAF scandal, said she would welcome a meeting with Wenger.
The Arsenal manager has been outspoken over many years in his belief football has a doping problem that is not being confronted, two years ago saying the sport is “full of legends who are in fact cheats”.
He returned to the subject recently, calling on Uefa to do more blood tests after the Dinamo Zagreb midfielder Arijan Ademi tested positive following a Champions League victory over Arsenal. Sapstead said she would “be interested to speak with him and hear what he’s got to say” but would not elaborate on whether the Football Association had passed on any specific concerns after it recently contacted Wenger.
“I think it’s foolish for any sport to think that they’re immune from doping, I really do,” Sapstead said. “You’ve got a sport that commands huge salaries – players command huge salaries – there’s huge television rights. There’s a lot to be gained from doping, irrespective of looking at the physiological requirements of the game itself. Look at how the game is played, the recovery rate with injuries. Football, tennis, other sports: something doesn’t feel right.” Sapstead called for sport and governments to invest more in the fight against doping and for athletes to blow the whistle if they had any suspicions.
“You can’t sit there and criticise, per se, an organisation like us, with limited resources, that we’re not doing enough,” she said. “Because people like Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones show you can test people until you’re blue in the face and you still won’t catch them because they had a network behind them that was so much more sophisticated than what we’re able to achieve right now.”
Sapstead confirmed Ukad could sign a contract to help Russia re-establish its laboratories to a Wada compliant standard in the wake of the country’s ban from athletics over a huge state-sponsored doping programme.
She said Wada had made an initial approach to Ukad but that no contract had yet been signed. Meanwhile the IAAF has sent inspection teams to Russia to begin the process of assessing whether it should return to athletics in time for the Rio Olympics. “If you are talking about state-sponsored doping you question whether it is just limited to just athletics, you have to be careful you are not singling one sport out in an effort to avoid a bigger issue. If anyone thinks this is purely about Russia and purely about athletics they are supremely naive,” Sapstead said.
“It is not single figures in the countries where they need to do more, I’m not saying it’s state-sponsored or corrupt [but] it’s whether they are fit for purpose? I would say there is a big question mark over a number of countries’ anti-doping organisations.”
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