The Last Word: Real drug cheats are getting away with it

Those who are innocent or just stupid, like Touré, are being hung out to dry
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The Independent Online

And so the drugs fascists are back on their crusade and how wonderfully righteous they look and sound up there on their pulpits. No excuses, no mercy. Kolo Touré must prove himself innocent or face a long ban. It's black and white, open and shut, good versus evil.

Except it isn't, not nearly. While the blissfully cynical out there were in full chortle at the Manchester City defender's explanation that his positive test was caused by him stupidly taking his wife's diet pills, what they failed to grasp or even bother to check out is that Touré will be banned whatever the validity of his account. Sport's hysterical drugs regulations will make sure of it.

Certainly Touré should be aware of an impending break from his profession, which, if recent precedent is a reliable gauge, will be about nine months. And the truly terrifying realisation for the Ivorian should be that the suspension will only be so brief if he can convince the disciplinarians that in the words of the FA's Doping Control Programme, "there was no intention to enhance sporting performance".

Poor old Kolo. His legal advisers have doubtless put him straight, but he had probably been labouring under the misapprehension that "no intention" could amount to the same thing as being innocent. A quick check in the FA's naughty-boy files will tell him otherwise; at the same time as informing him of the absurd unfairness of the likely punishment.

First off, back in 2010, there was the case of the then Sheffield United goalkeeper Paddy Kenny, who, like Touré, tested positive for a "specified substance". What is "a specified substance"? According to the World Anti-Doping Agency, whose code is the basis of every sporting drug policy, they are substances that "could be susceptible to a credible, non-doping explanation". They aren't EPO, artificial testosterone or clenbuterol.

This was an important distinction Wada introduced into their code. It effectively paved the way for common sense to be applied. So if, say, a footballer could "establish how a specified substance entered his body that was not intended to enhance sport performance... the sanction may be reduced to a reprimand..."

So why wasn't Kenny only warned? Contrary to what most apparently believe and what the BBC website still reports, this wasn't "a case of the player's defence of the drug being present in cough medicine being dismissed". In fact, the panel was "satisfied" the Do-Do Chesteze remedy Kenny took to relieve a tight chest accounted for the ephedrine in his system. No, Kenny's crime was in the failure to check for any prohibited substance, either by consulting his doctor or by reading the medication's leaflet. His fault, they therefore concluded, was "significant". Verdict: "Suspension from all football and football activities for nine months." Kenny wasn't even allowed to train at the club.

Fast forward to last month and there was Simon Mensing, from Hamilton Academical, serving a ban. He had taken a dietary supplement which apparently led to a positive test for methylhexaneamine, another "specified substance". Again the beaks acknowledged there had been "no intent to enhance," etc. Yet, unlike Kenny, Mensing was not "signifi-cantly" at fault. In fact, in all but the extraordinarily petty eyes of UK Anti-Doping, he wasn't at fault at all.

Before taking XTRA-CUT, Mensing checked with the manufacturers, with the retailers, with his GP, with his fitness coach and with his own eyes that, as it said on the container, the supplement contained "no banned substances". Yet it did, and when Mensing sent it to a lab – by the way, he did that, NOT the body supposedly investigating the doping breach – it was discovered the container was contaminated. It was a rotten batch, and for Mensing rotten luck, as he was bizarrely suspended anyway. The disciplinarians had it in their power to issue a warning and allow this entirely innocent man on his way. Instead, they delivered a four-week ban which rather incredibly in the last few days has been described as "lenient".

Lenient? How? Mensing did nothing wrong and gained exactly nothing by doing nothing wrong. It might "only" have meant five matcheson the sidelines but a young family was driven to the brink of financial ruin in preparing their case and the emotional price paid was probably just as high when one considers the uncertainty and the stigma and everything else associated with that big, bad wolf called "DRUGS".

Therein lies the problem. The authorities are petrified to be seen as "going soft on drugs" so they go the other way. Their sanctions are ludicrously over the top, especially when compared with their punishments for other offences. "Professionals are 100 per cent responsible for what they put in their body," they say. Fair enough. But surely professionals are just as responsible for physical acts which threaten fellow professionals' health. For example, Ben Thatcher's horror challenge which hospitalised Pedro Mendes a few years ago. He got eight games for that and, as everyone who saw it will confirm, there was most definitely intent involved.

Try to square that grotesque anomaly. Indeed, try to square the anomaly that saw Rio Ferdinand receive a month LESS than Kenny for missing a drugs test. Double standards run amok in the FA's disciplinary book, just as they do in every terrified sporting organisation.

Not to say that Kenny wasn't culpable. But nine months culpable? Of course not. That suspension and, yes, that of Mensing, had so much to do with PR – with sport's desperation to be seen to be doing the right thing in this so-called war against drugs – and almost nothing to do with legitimate justice.

Touré should consider that in these lonely hours. He also might want to consider how many "actual" drug cheats the FA have unearthed in the past three seasons. You know, those who "actually" sought to enhance their sporting performance by illegal means. Answer? None. All they have to show for their exhaustive programme is a bunch of players who have unwittingly taken the wrong medication or supplement or, shock horror, sniffed cocaine or smoked marijuana in their spare time.

Does that mean English football's clean? Yeah, right. It only means the real cheats are getting away with it. While those who are innocent or merely just stupid are being hungout to dry and cry. Still, it makes the righteous feel good.

Agree or disagree? Email j.corrigan@independent.co.uk or leave your comment below

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