Doping in association football

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Unlike individual sports such as cycling, weight-lifting, and track and field, the use of performance-enhancing drugs in football (soccer) is not widely associated with the sport because of lack of evidence. Like most high-profile team sports, football suffers from recreational drug use, the case of Diego Maradona and cocaine in 1991 being the best known example.

Incidence of the use of performance-enhancing drugs (commonly disparaged as "doping" by sports organizations) in football seems to be low, but much closer collaboration and further investigation seems needed with regard to banned substances, detection methods, and data collection worldwide.[1]

International associations[edit]


In the run-up to the 2006 World Cup, the FIFA Congress ratified the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code, being the last of the Olympic sports to agree to "anti-doping".[2] FIFA applies the minimum two-year ban for first-time offenders, however, there are exceptions. When a player accused of doping can prove the substance was not intended to enhance performance, FIFA can reduce the sanction to a warning in a first offense, a two-year ban for a second offense and lifetime ban in case of repetition.[3]

In 2014, the biological passport is introduced in the 2014 FIFA World Cup; blood and urine samples from all players before the competition and from two players per team and per match are analysed by the Swiss Laboratory for Doping Analyses.[4]


The European football union UEFA announced three doping cases for its competitions in the 2006-07 season, four less than in the previous season. The three positive findings compromised two cases of cannabis and one for a high concentration of Betamethasone at a Euro 2008 qualifier. In the 2006-07, UEFA carried out 1662 tests in and out of competitions, including 938 players tested for the blood doping substance EPO.[5]

Individual cases and programs by country[edit]


KS Besa defender Alban Dragusha was suspended for 24 months by UEFA after testing positive on 19 July 2007 for a high concentration of nandrolone metabolites after a UEFA Cup match in Belgrade.[6]


Arguably the most high-profile case of doping in world football is the one of Diego Maradona at the 1994 World Cup in the USA, who was immediately suspended and later sanctioned for 18 months for intake of ephedrine.[7] Maradona was also suspended for 15 months in 1991 after a failed doping test for cocaine while playing for Napoli in Italy.[8]


In January 2007, Stan Lazaridis, playing for Perth Glory, returned a positive drug test for prescription alopecia medication, which is banned due to its potential as a masking agent for other performance-enhancing substances. He was found guilty by Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and was given a 12-month suspension from football. He had not taken the prohibited substance to mask a performance-enhancing drug but for legitimate therapeutic purposes as prescribed by his doctor. The tribunal, however, held that an anti-doping violation had occurred and ordered the player ineligible to play for 12 months, backdated to the date of his positive test.[9]

East Germany[edit]

Unlike other sports in the former GDR, football did not have a government-run doping program due to the fact that football was not seen as internationally successful enough to justify the expense. Doping was carried out sporadically in football and from 1985, doping tests were carried out to prevent this practice. Manfred Höppner, head of the East German sports medicine department, accused Dynamo Berlin and 1. FC Lok Leipzig of doping. According to his statement, in October 1983, when both teams traveled abroad for European Cup matches, a test revealed high traces of Amphetamine and Methamphetamine in thirteen of nineteen Dynamo players, administered only 2–3 days before. In Lok's players, only slight traces were found and only on some players.[10] Falco Götz, a former Dynamo player and later manager in the German Bundesliga for Hertha BSC and 1. FC Nürnberg, denied any active knowledge but admitted to having been administered substances declared to be vitamins in his active time with the club.[11][12]


Testing Programmes in England[edit]

So far, only one Premiership player has ever tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs in a league match. According to a statement of one of UK Sport's Independent Sampling Officers (ISO), "If a club knows in advance we're coming, and the club suspects one of their players, they keep him off training and his name doesn't appear on the list I am given". In the 1999-2000 season, testers were present at just 32 of the 3,500-plus league games, taking samples from two players of each side. Compared to other sports in the UK, like cricket, cycling or athletics, footballers are far less likely to be tested.[13] A case of high-profile was the one of Rio Ferdinand, who missed a drug test in September 2003 and found himself punished for it, being banned for eight months.[14]

In July 2009, the FA was in talks with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) over the FA's proposal to comply with the WADA international anti-doping code (as other UK sports such as rugby, golf and tennis have already done). The FA was at the time under pressure from organisations including UK sport and Sport England to comply with the code and to put forward the first 30 players of the English national football team for testing.[15]

The dispute was apparently to do with the rules surrounding footballers in the testing pool. Should footballers have drug testing on randomly selected days (so athletes must state their whereabouts for an hour every day) as in other WADA-compliant sports, or should testing merely take place each week at club training? See WADA whereabouts controversy.

Cases in England[edit]

In the 2002-03 season, Rushden & Diamonds goalkeeper Billy Turley was let off with a mere warning after being found to have taken the anabolic steroid nandrolone.[16] He was later banned for six months for testing positive for cocaine, which is deemed to be a recreational drug, becoming the only player so far to be banned after a domestic league match.

Middlesbrough's Abel Xavier was banned in November 2005 from football for 18 months by UEFA for taking anabolic steroids after testing positive for dianabol after a UEFA Cup match on 29 September 2005. He is the first player in Premiership history to be banned for using performance-enhancing substances, as opposed to recreational drugs.[17]

Adrian Mutu of Chelsea was banned after he tested positive for cocaine in the 2003-2004 season. He was banned for 7 months and was subsequently sacked by Chelsea.[18]

In 2016 after a Europa League tie, Liverpool's Mahmodou Sakho was alleged to have taken a fat burning banned drug. However, on later investigation, Uefa decided to completely dismiss all charges.


Jean-Jacques Eydelie, who played for Olympique Marseille in the 1-0 final victory over AC Milan in Munich in the 1993 Champions League final, said in the L'Equipe magazine in January 2006, that he and several teammates received injections before the match, implying premeditated doping. Former Marseille president Bernard Tapie has taken legal action over articles suggesting players were given doping substances.[19]


Peter Neururer, a coach in the German Bundesliga, accused players of his former club FC Schalke 04 of doping, alleging that almost all players in the club in the late 1980s took Captagon, an illegal substance in most countries, including Germany. Jens Lehmann, then a young player with the club, confirmed the allegations. The German Football Association requested Neururer to release names of players involved in doping.[20] FC Schalke 04 has denied the allegations. Two former team doctors of Eintracht Braunschweig confessed administering Captagon to players of the club in the 1970s and 80's.[21]

Germany national coach Joachim Löw insisted he has never seen an example of drug-abuse in German football.[22]

Doping tests have been carried out in the Bundesliga since 1988 and after selected games two players are chosen at random to provide a urine sample. In the 2006-07 season, tests were carried out after 241 of 612 first and second division games. Since 1995, 15 players from the Bundesliga's first and second divisions have been accused of doping offences.[23]


In Serie A, Parma's Manuele Blasi was banned after testing positive for nandrolone in September 2003.[16]

According to the Gazzetta dello Sport, the death of four former Fiorentina players over the past 19 years were suspicious. Pino Longoni died at the age of 63 after suffering from an irreversible degenerative illness which narrowed the arteries in his brain, Bruno Beatrice died of leukaemia in 1987 aged 39, Nello Saltutti died after suffering a heart attack in 2003 aged 56, and Ugo Ferrante died in November 2004 of cancer of the tonsils aged 59. The Italian newspaper claimed their illnesses may have been brought on by Cortex and Micoren, drugs that were allegedly administered by Fiorentina's medical staff in the 1970s. However, Turin prosecutor Raffaele Guariniello, who has led Italy's fight against drug-taking in sport since 1998, said without hard evidence the Gazzetta's claims that the deaths might be linked to doping were presumptuous.[24]


The French paper Le Monde alleges that in the course of investigating Operation Puerto, a doping bust primarily focused on cycling, extensive documentation was found of "seasonal preparation plans" for Real Madrid and FC Barcelona that include notation suggesting doping practices. [1] Sources suggest that of the 200 sportspersons implicated in Operation Puerto, approximately 50 were cyclists (including notable names such as Ivan Basso and Tyler Hamilton) and the remaining 150 were from other sporting codes, including football. The football players were never pursued in the investigation, leading to claims of double standards between sports. [2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "FIFA's approach to doping in football". British journal of sports medicine. 40. 2006. Retrieved 2008-03-20. .
  2. ^ "Gene Doping in World Football". Genetics & Health. 10 June 2006. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  3. ^ "World Cup at a glance". The Associated Press. 9 June 2006. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  4. ^ (in French) Anti-dopage. Dvorak : "Le profil biologique, une approche complètement nouvelle", (page visited on 11 June 2014).
  5. ^ "UEFA continuous doping fight". UEFA. 11 December 2007. Archived from the original on 19 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  6. ^ "Dragusha given doping ban". UEFA. 29 August 2007. Archived from the original on 18 December 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  7. ^ "International Convention against Doping in Sport" (PDF). UN. 5 February 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  8. ^ "Maradona seeks treatment in Cuba". BBC News. 18 January 2000. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  9. ^ "Lazaridis handed one-year suspension". A-League. 27 August 2007. Archived from the original on 17 June 2011. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  10. ^ "Doping-Opfer:Werder Bremen gegen Lok Leipzig (in German)". Focus Online. 1994. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  11. ^ "Doping-Gerüchte weiten sich aus-Dynamo Berlin am Pranger" (in German). Hamburger Abendblatt. 18 June 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  12. ^ "Dynamo Berlin wieder unter Doping-Verdacht" (in German). 18 June 2007. Archived from the original on 2008-03-30. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  13. ^ "Football's anti-doping flaws". BBC Sport. 7 October 2003. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  14. ^ "Ferdinand banned for eight months". BBC Sport. 19 December 2003. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b "How the FA must change". BBC Sport. 20 December 2003. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  17. ^ "Football: Xavier hit with 18-month ban for steroid use". The Independent. 24 November 2005. Archived from the original on 2008-03-29. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  18. ^ "Mutu lodges appeal over damages". BBC Sport. 5 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-04. 
  19. ^ Andersson, Astrid (25 January 2006). "Tapie takes legal action over doping allegations". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  20. ^ "Doping auch im Fussball" (in German). ARD. 13 June 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-17. 
  21. ^ "Doping-Gerüchte weiten sich aus" (in German). Hamburger Abendblatt. 18 June 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  22. ^ "There is no doping in football in Germany". IOL. 27 May 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 
  23. ^ "Bundesliga coach admits he saw doping". 2007. Retrieved 2008-03-17. 
  24. ^ "Former Fiorentina player's death raises doping suspicions". ABC sport. 24 March 2006. Archived from the original on 2008-03-28. Retrieved 2008-03-20. 

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