Football / World Cup USA '94: Dangers of drugs outweigh benefits: Mike Rowbottom on the risks players run when they seek help from stimulants

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THE substance for which Diego Maradona tested positive, ephedrine, falls within the category of stimulants such as amphetamines and cocaine which are on Fifa's banned list. The categories of drugs listed correspond almost exactly to those of the International Olympic Committee.

The advantages in performance to a footballer taking stimulants are increased aggression and mental alertness. They can also reduce fatigue in the short run.

However, Michele Verroken, the head of doping control for the Sports Council, warned that there are counter- balancing effects, particularly in the soaring temperatures of the World Cup matches.

'There is a great danger that the body may become overstimulated,' she said. 'Blood pressure can rise, the heart can start beating irregularly and there is a risk of anxiety and tremors. Afterwards, there would be a big physical and emotional low.'

British footballers have been tested by the Football Association since 1978. Since 1991, under the direction of the Sports Council, the system has evolved into testing at randomly selected matches, where two players from each side are requested to provide a post-match sample.

Since the Sports Council's involvement there have been three positive tests on footballers - in 1991-92 there was a finding of ephedrine and also of pseudoephedrine, a related compound. In 1993-94 a player from a Welsh league tested positive for a stimulant.

'We have tested 160 players for performance-enhancing drugs throughout the last two years,' said Alan Hodson, the administrator of the FA testing programme. 'And we haven't had a positive.'

British football authorities are set to break new ground in the next few weeks. It is expected that random testing after matches will be extended to training, and will also involve women's and youth football.