Sport On TV: Snorting with derision at the FA's softly-softly drug testing
Sunday 18 September 2011
It's not beyond the realms of possibility, is it? Young men with thousands of pounds in their pockets, out on the town in the swankiest nightclubs quaffing champagne with busty ladies. They need a little something to keep them going all night, satisfying the demands of their suitors or at least fighting them off.
The Football Association may be crying out for technology to check if the ball crossed the line, but Dispatches: The Truth about Drugsin Football (Channel 4, Monday) maintains they go silent when it comes to players crossing the line, or snorting it up their noses. Perhaps it hasn't quite got to the stage yet when they are hallucinating dwarves running around all over the place.
The FA would not tell investigator Antony Barnett how many drugs tests they carried out over a season, let alone how many players failed them, claiming that releasing such information would be "detrimental" to their testing programme. In fact the figure last year was 1,455 tests – more than any other sport, say the FA. But the professional player base is in the region of 4,000, a far higher figure than in other sports, so it works out that players are tested once every three years. That's more than enough time for your career to fall apart, if not your nose.
The fans, it seems, are unanimous in wanting to be told about those who fail – and well done Dispatches for asking their opinion – yet the FA, according to the programme-makers, have worked with clubs to ensure the guilty parties are not publicised. They are quietly moved on to other unsuspecting clubs, like shady characters on street corners. When Barnsley picked up Gary O'Connor from Birmingham, they had no idea he had failed a test for cocaine.
While rugby union's Matt Stevens served a two-year ban for a positive cocaine test – in accordance with World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines – English football seems to confine itself to between two and six months, the sort of time frame it might take for someone like O'Connor to recover from a "groin operation". We all know players like to think about their groins, but we didn't know it was to hide more serious misdemeanours.
And then there are the steroids.No player in the English leagues has been found guilty of steroid abuse – the FA accepted Kolo Touré's claims that he took diet pills because he "hated his body shaping". But the problem became so serious in Italy's Serie A that now two players from each team are tested after every game – that's 4,500 tests per season.
Richard Sadlier, the former Millwall striker, tells how the club made him take 18 to 25 pills a day in order to "bulk up". One day he noticed that one of the pills was missing; when he asked where it was, he was told that it had been banned.
As it is easy to imagine players taking drugs, so you can see how the enormous wealth of football could serve to keep them one step ahead of the testers' game of cat and mouse. The programme claims that an Italian regime at Chelsea set up their own clinic inside the stadium – former player Leon Knight called it "the drip room" – and tried to put his players on saline drips feeding them iron, against doctors' orders. It is alleged that the players had to sign gagging orders, but if you have to eat 25 pills a day, you're bound to gag from time to time.
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