Dope Culture

In light of the USADA’s recent report on Lance Armstrong, Kevin Beirne examines the existence of doping in other sports

Many of us suspected it to be true for a long time, even before the USADA released its incredibly detailed, 1,000-page-plus report into “the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen”, in which Lance Armstrong was finally found guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs.

For the majority of sports fans, this report is hardly a revelation. It is hardly a secret that the sport of cycling has struggled with doping over the past 20 years, and many had assumed that it would be impossible for anyone to dominate in a sport in which doping was so widespread without engaging in doping themselves.

Despite the amount of coverage the report has gotten in the mainstream media, one part has gone largely unreported. Apparently, in a conversation that took place back in 1999, Dr Luis García del Moral, the US Postal Service team’s doctor during Armstrong’s reign, told Tyler Hamilton, a former member of the team, that cyclists “take nothing in comparison to footballers.”

That is quite the allegation to make, but García may have personal experience of administering these drugs to footballers at the very top-level. This claim is backed up from reports following the breaking of the “Operation Puerto” scandal in 2006, when Dr Eufemiano Fuentes was said to be leading a doping network of up to 200 clients.

Out of the 200 alleged clients of Dr Fuentes, only 34 were named, and each one was a professional cyclist. Dr Fuentes was so angered by the singling out of cycling that he announced that he also worked with footballers and tennis players, although he provided no names.

In September of 2006, former cyclist Jesús Manzano, one of the people named as a client of Dr Fuentes, told French media that he had seen some well-known La Liga stars in Dr Fuentes’ offices during his visits there, in which he would receive his drugs.

The following December, Le Monde claimed to have documents belonging to Dr Fuentes detailing the “seasonal preparation plans” of Barcelona and Real Madrid. Le Monde was later forced to pay €15,000 after it lost two cases, in 2009 and 2011, having been found to have been “using false and unverified facts” in its report.

This is not the first time that a football team had been accused of administering drugs to its players in order to achieve a competitive advantage. During the EPO boom in cycling of the mid-1990s, Roma manager Zdenek Zeman raised concerns about the size of the Juventus side that was dominating Serie ‘A’ and were perennial contenders in Europe at the time.

These concerns finally culminated in an investigation into the team, which resulted in the team doctor being found guilty of administering illegal substances, including EPO, to some players. Shockingly, no players were punished and even the team doctor walked free following a series of appeals that eventually upheld the original guilty verdict, but also decided that no action could be taken because of the statute of limitations.

Some feel that a doping conspiracy had been uncovered in football, but nothing was done about it. No players were suspended and Juventus were not stripped of any of the titles they won during this time. In the end, it appears that there was not enough evidence of illegal drug use to justify this action, although there was widespread misuse of legal substances.

The other sport in which García claimed to have a hand in, tennis, is now facing its own accusations of drug use in light of the USADA report. The most high-profile name involved is David Ferrer, but the accusations reach most of the top-level tennis players in Spain, although Rafael Nadal’s name remains clean.

In his autobiography, Andre Agassi told of how he failed a drug test for taking crystal methamphetamine, for recreational purposes, but managed to get off with a warning after claiming that his drink had been spiked at a party. In his book, Agassi admitted that he had lied to the ATP and it is worrying how willing the ATP were to sweep a failed drug test under the rug, even for non-performance-enhancing drugs.

The ATP’s ability to deal with those who dope is further thrown in to question when one considers their response to finding human growth hormones in the luggage of the South African Wayne Odesnik.  He originally received a two year ban, but it was reduced to fourteen months due to his cooperation with helping the ATP find other dopers, despite Odesnik denying that helped the authorities.

So long as there are big gains to be made as a result of doping, players will take the risk. Baseball is a perfect example of a sport that has had its reputation tarnished by doping. The all-time leading homerun hitter, Barry Bonds, has had his career sullied by allegations that he took steroids. To this day he still denies the charges; although it is widely accepted as fact that he took steroids.

Baseball has somewhat rebuilt its reputation, as many feel they have taken a hard stance on substance abuse, particularly steroids. The game is still not clean and two players, Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon, were suspended for 50 games each following elevated levels of testosterone back in August.

It remains unclear whether or not doping is as common in other sports as it is in cycling. The USADA report has brought the idea of doping back in to the public consciousness, and it would not be too surprising to see other sports taking action on this wave of anti-doping. Let’s hope that they do, as such action can only be good for sport.