Football: Italian magistrate investigates `suspect deaths' of 45 players

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The Independent Online
AN ITALIAN investigating magistrate has opened an inquiry into the "suspect deaths" of 45 former footballers to find out if their deaths could be related to substances consumed during their sporting careers.

Raffaelle Guariniello, who is heading the doping investigation that has caused a furore in Italian football, has acquired the medical records of many players who died young of mysterious causes or strange diseases. The "suspect deaths" include Renato Curi, who dropped dead on the field from heart failure during in a Perugia-Juventus match in 1977, Andrea Fortunato (Juventus), who died of leukemia, as did the 38-year-old Bruno Beatrice and former Italian international Guido Vicenzi, who died last year as the result of a rare form of muscular degeneration.

Others on the list are the 30-year-old Enrico Cucchi (Internazionale and Fiorentina) and the 49-year-old Bruno Mora (Juventus and Milan), who both died of stomach tumours.

Among the judicial hypotheses Mr Guariniello is pursuing is manslaughter against those who administered substances that may have led to a premature death. The inquiry is expected to take two or three years and is made difficult by the fact that the Italian football federation archives are incomplete.

As well as obtaining medical records on the deceased, Guariniello is also seeking scientific data on former players who are now suffering from serious illnesses or injuries that could in some way be linked to illegal substances.

News that Guariniello was going beyond the grave in his search for sporting abuses has received a mixed reaction in the football world. In an outspoken interview with the Milan daily Corriere della Sera, 50-year-old Carlo Petrini, who played for Genoa, Milan, Bologna and Roma in the 1960s and '70s, said that what went on in his day made creatine and growth hormones seem like boiled sweets.

Petrini said it began when he played for Genoa in 1965. "The team wasn't doing well, so players were administered `regenerating' injections," Petrini said. "I don't know what the substance was, it was bright red. We accepted the jabs during the week and before each match, for the good of Genoa."

Petrini said they used bathrobes with double pockets containing samples of non-players' urine, which they squirted into the collection tubes.

Mr Guariniello's inquiry was triggered by comments made by the Roma coach, Zdenek Zeman, last July. He expressed surprise at the speedy muscle development of two Juventus players, Alessandro Del Piero and Gianluca Vialli, and intimated that substance abuse was widespread in Serie A. The probe at first focused on the use of creatine, a natural performance enhancer, but soon widened.

The Turin-based magistrate has questioned countless players, including Inter's Brazilian striker Ronaldo, on training and locker-room practices and medical treatments. Coaches, club managers and team doctors have also been called in. Even Diego Maradona, who was suspended from Serie A after testing positive for cocaine in 1991, was interviewed on a visit to Italy last month.

The inquiry revealed that the anti-doping procedures of the Rome laboratory, run by CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, which oversees all sport, were woefully inadequate. Most of the staff resigned, the centre was closed and since then testing has been carried out at an IOC lab in Switzerland.

CONI chiefs and the heads of the football league and federation attempted to lay the blame solely with sporting doctors, but in the face of public outrage the CONI president, Mario Pescante, stepped down.

n The sports doctor Bernd Pansold was convicted and fined by a Berlin court yesterday as the first trial to put former East Germany's systematic doping policy under the spotlight came to an end. Pansold, the last of six officials of the swimming section of Berlin club SC Dynamo to be judged, was handed a 14,400 marks (pounds 5,320) fine and will have to pay court costs likely to be several times that sum.