Sam Wallace: When are footballers going to stop being so dopey about what's in the pills they pop?
Talking Football: There has been for many years, as the vast wealth from television revenue gushes into English football, a tendency to infantilise elite players
Now that he has a keen interest in doping control in British sport, Kolo Touré would be advised to sit down and read the Football Association commission's ruling on Paddy Kenny, the Queen's Park Rangers goalkeeper who was banned for nine months for a positive test.
Kenny was playing for Sheffield United when he tested positive for a specified substance in May 2009 after the first leg of United's play-off game against Preston North End. The substance in question was ephedrine, which, in Kenny's case, was in a flu remedy he took before the game but, given its presence in slimming pills, could be what Touré has tested positive for.
Kenny's crime? Eight tablets of Do-Do Chesteze bought for him by his girlfriend in the week leading up to the game to treat a chesty cough and phlegm. Crucially, this was not what the club's GP had prescribed when Kenny had gone to see him earlier in the week. In fact, it was Kenny's self-medicating tendencies that got him in all the trouble in the first place.
Kenny's evidence to the commission demonstrated a recklessness that beggars belief in a sportsman whose constitution is his living. Even the author of the commission document could not contain his disbelief when he summarised Kenny's carelessness thus: "In the context of his being a professional sportsman with experience of drug testing, we find that staggering."
Kenny had neither read the ingredients on the box of Do-Do Chesteze nor bothered with the accompanying leaflet, both of which clearly listed ephedrine as a constituent of the drug.
As part of the care at Sheffield United it was revealed that the players had access to a GP or physiotherapist 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Neither had been consulted.
For the next four days Kenny went on taking the tablets during the build-up to the Preston game, without consulting the club GP or re-checking the pack. But his complete ignorance and lack of interest in doping issues did not end there.
Asked about the leaflets detailing banned and specified substances that were sent to Sheffield United by the UK anti-doping agency, Kenny said: "People don't read them." As for a talk on doping that took place at the club's training ground, the players only showed interest because, in Kenny's words, a "woman turned up" to give it.
The overwhelming evidence pointing to Kenny's ignorance on doping issues became so acute that his barrister dropped the defence that there was "no significant fault" on his client's part. As for Kevin Blackwell, Kenny's manager at Sheffield United, he explained to the commission in what was described as "colourful terms" his player's "level of understanding".
In other words, it sounded as if Blackwell made a joke about Kenny's shortcomings but by the time it came to banning him for nine months, no one was laughing. Blackwell also admitted that his players' attention to doping issues "left something to be desired".
All in all, a thoroughly depressing document charting the sheer ignorance, at one particular club, in the face of one of the most important issues in sport. Neither Kenny nor his team-mates could be bothered to listen to a lecture on doping control. Faced with a choice that would change the course of his career, Kenny did not phone his doctor or even turn over the box of tablets to read the ingredients.
We do not know to what lengths Touré went in order to investigate the danger of the slimming pill belonging to his wife that Arsène Wenger alleged his former player took. He may well have checked out the tablets thoroughly, but given his positive test, one would suspect that was not the case.
Yes, the cases of Kenny and Touré might seem relatively inconsequential compared to the great doping scandals of cycling or the anabolic steroids abuses of athletics. Yes, the possibility of a two-year ban for Touré might seem harsh for this silly little offence of taking a pill that would do nothing to enhance performance.
But when are certain footballers going to learn to take responsibility for their actions? What stops them from making a bit of time in their admittedly not-very-busy days to educate themselves about doping, an issue as germane to their profession as ladder maintenance is to window cleaners?
There has been for many years, as the vast wealth from television revenue gushes into the English game, a tendency to infantilise elite footballers. Their homes are found for them, their council tax bills paid, their meals cooked, their dogs walked and their cars washed at the training ground so that they return to find them immaculate every day.
It is not just the fault of the clubs, it is also over-eager agents keen to do anything to hang on to lucrative clients. Increasingly, the only place a Premier League footballer has to take any responsibility is on the football pitch where, admittedly, there is much pressure. But it is also a place where many of the rules of normal life do not apply.
Of course, not all players fall into this category. There are many bright, well-informed footballers who can do things for themselves. Robbie Savage said on 5 Live on Saturday night that he would never accept a drink in a bar in case it was spiked. But there are many players who rely on others to do their thinking for them. Unfortunately, it seems to be getting worse. The game is in danger of creating morons.
When a player cannot even be bothered to check out the ingredients of the flu remedy he is taking, football is in dangerous territory. It is usually the case that, in the world of top footballers, someone is there to clean up his mess. But, as Kenny could tell Touré, there are some holes even an expensive barrister cannot rescue you from.
Charity starts at home – and NBA won't let us forget
During the regular season NBA game between the New Jersey Nets and the Toronto Raptors – played at the O2 arena on Friday night – those of us in the stands were left punch-drunk by the way the NBA's corporate message was rammed home at every opportunity.
If you thought that English football clubs tend to overplay their corporate social responsibility programmes and general do-gooding, you ain't seen nothing yet. While the Premier League's charity is modestly known as the Football Foundation, that is light-hidden-under-bushel stuff compared to the gloriously self-aggrandising "NBA Cares", which got a mention just about every five minutes.
Is super-rich Fifa hedging its bets for ignoring England?
Even by the standards of the bizarre world of Fifa, the £799m that the organisation announced last week that it had in reserves was staggering. What kind of rainy day is Fifa going to need that for? The last World Cup, held in the relatively risky Africa, made Fifa £387m. The hosts for 2022, Qatar, are going to spend £61bn upgrading their infrastructure.
Financial prudence did not matter so much in December when the nation which had been most highly commended in the individual economic reports into the contenders to host the 2018 tournament – ie the one most likely to deliver profits for Fifa – garnered just two votes. That, of course, was England. Could it be that Fifa is hedging against its own dodgy choices?
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