Wild-eyed response to this sorry affair

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PRESUMABLY, it is permissible for each of the remaining World Cup contenders to employ the services of one drug-crazed player to buzz about the pitch with wild eyes and sparkling sinuses - apart, that is, from Argentina. They have already used up their allocation.

That is the clear precedent set by Fifa's neglect to take any action against Argentina for having had the advantage of a blatant rule- breaker in their team. Of all the wretched aspects of the Maradona affair, this ranks as one of the most puzzling and proves that when it comes to fighting drug abuse most sporting bodies are still groping around for the light switch.

The Fifa general secretary, Sepp Blatter, said: 'According to Fifa's principles, if only one player is found guilty of infringing regulations, the incident shall have no influence on the result of the match concerned.' This will be news to all those small clubs who have had points deducted through playing an unregistered player and a comfort to the team who eventually win the World Cup in two weeks' time. It doesn't matter if the player who scores their winning goal subsequently fails the drugs test; they can still keep the trophy.

Blatter offered another reason why Argentina escaped punishment. Nigeria, who were beaten

2-1 in the game concerned, had not registered a protest. As it happens, Nigeria went on to win the group and had no need to protest but what if the three points they lost that day had meant their early departure from the tournament? They most certainly would have protested and surely not even Fifa could have resisted the potency of their case.

It is remarkable that the organisers of the greatest sporting event in the world should be making spur-of-the-moment decisions on drug offences. They should possess a well-defined disciplinary procedure that requires all competing countries to take a full measure of responsibility for the conduct of their players. It is impossible to operate an anti-drug programme in a team game without the wholehearted co-operation of the teams. It should have been the enforced duty of each of the 24 teams to do their utmost to ensure that every one of their players could piddle into a sample bottle without blushing.

Considering that Argentina brought along two players who had previously been banned for cocaine use, it would have been in their interest to have their own testing facilities. Had the rules dictated disqualification for the team as well as the player, they would surely have done so and the game might have been spared the pain of the past few days.

But sport generally has little to be proud of in what is presented to the world as a crusade against drugs. No progress seems to have been made since Ben Johnson brought abuse into the big-time in the Seoul Olympics. It had been there for a while but he was found out and what resulted has set the pattern for subsequent scandals.

It works like this: millions of pounds are poured into drug detection, the traps are laid and, sooner or later, a big culprit is discovered. There then follows a haughty demonstration of official muscle and then the lynch mob takes over. Abusive orations, brimming with scorn and moral indignation, are delivered from the media pulpits. At the conclusions of this Orwellian hate session we return to our duties happy in the knowledge that we have done our bit to fight the drug menace. We have done nothing of the sort.

Has steroid use in the gyms of the world diminished since the Johnson affair? On the contrary, the publicity seems to have been a boost for the illegal steroid industry. Now comes ephedrine and the related drugs that are said to have comprised Diego's magic potion. During the course of his career, Maradona has made millions from endorsing products. Is the final irony of his disgrace to be that he's done ephedrine ads for nothing?

No one can tell how many dim- witted young players will have made a mental note to give the substance a try, but can you blame anyone for getting the impression that these drugs must possess some amazing qualities if there is all fuss about Maradona taking it? The tragedy is that we will never know what benefit, if any, Maradona received from the stuff. After his long spell of drug dependency, he may not even know himself.

Operating under the strong influence of hindsight, many denoted tell-tale signs in Maradona's two performances in the United States. They cite his excitable run towards the camera after scoring a goal. If manic goal celebrations are a sign of drug-taking, hundreds of them must be at it. Another report mentioned the player's calm approach to the fouls committed on him. It is a formidable dosage that can hype a man up one minute and then make him tolerant to being kicked by a big Nigerian.

The official medical view is that the drug increases mental alertness, aggression and reduces fatigue. But Michele Verroken, head of doping control for the Sports Council, says there are counter-balancing effects, particularly in the heat being experienced over there. Two medical professors at Cornell University in the US claimed last week that ephedrine has no significant effect on physical performance.

Dr Richard Nicholson, editor of the Bulletin of the Institute of Medical Ethics and a long-time campaigner for a more enlightened approach to the drug problem in sport, believes that in the timescale of a football match, the drug is just as likely to have a damaging effect.

'It might give some advantage for 15 to 20 minutes but if your heart is working faster in that heat you will lose more fluid, quickly use up your stores of energy and be subject to after-effects including cramp. Sport should make it its business to discover the exact effect these drugs have. We've had 10 years concentrating on detection when a more scientific approach might have produced a more persuasive argument against their use,' he said.

Instead of fighting an enemy whose strengths are wrapped in myth, it might be now appropriate for Fifa to investigate what Maradona gained from his crime. It would be a more constructive aftermath than continuing to shovel abuse upon the quivering superstar which may bring a fleeting feeling of moral importance but which will achieve nothing.

NOT for one second would I suggest that Boris Becker's behaviour at Wimbledon was the result of drugs. But now that he has been put out of his misery by the pulverising he took from Goran Ivanisevic, it can be ventured that he may have been suffering from that prevalent disorder known as Mad Kraut Disease.

WOULD you say that taking potential customers on lavish, all-expenses- paid excursions to Wimbledon, Lord's, Henley or Ascot amount to gaining an unfair advantage over those rival firms who didn't think of it first? Do you think that those customers will grant their business in a totally impartial way?

I ask only in a cynical but intriguing attempt, in these days of intensive hospitality at our major events, to establish the ratio of cheating spectators to cheating sportsmen.