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Are FIFA and UEFA Wrong to Oppose "Surprise" Drug Testing?

BERLIN - AUGUST 29:  Photos of anabolic steroids confiscated in a police bust earlier in the day stand on display at police headquarters August 29, 2006 in Berlin, Germany. Police in the German states of Berlin, Lower Saxony and Brandenburg as well as in Poland searched a total of 45 residences and athletic studios and made 8 arrests in what appears to be a gang specialized in the illegal trade of anabolic steroids. Police said hundreds of people, mostly weightlifting enthusiasts in Germany, are thought to have to have bought steroids from the gang, who smuggled the substances into Germany from countries including Thailand, Poland and Russia.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Khalid SiddiquiCorrespondent IIMarch 25, 2009

Imagine this scenario:

 

You tune into your favorite sports channel to watch the FIFA World Cup final, which is only the most watched single sports event in the world. The team sheets are being announced, and suddenly you're shell-shocked by the news that your favorite player's name is not there. Why?! Well, it's just been revealed that Mr. Favorite just happened to be caught doing his very own imitation of Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds.

 

Then you suddenly remember that it was the very body that is supposed to regulate the game, i.e. FIFA, which decided against applying the strict World Anti Doping Association (WADA) code to its sport. Something about invasion of players' private lives, you recall. Then everything falls into place and you're left watching a very one-sided FIFA World Cup Final, You feel cheated, and you don't know who to blame.

 

Welcome to the wonderful world of dope-tainted sports.

 

This is a nightmare scenario any sports governing body would like to avoid. The recriminations of such a discovery go far and beyond the one game in question. They go all the way back to when Mr. Favorite started scoring those wonderful goals, and making those incredible lung-busting runs, and is now close to breaking his club's all-time goal scoring record. Should Mr. Favorite continue to be considered the greatest player his club has ever seen, or should his name be scratched from the record books?

 

FIFA has, unfortunately, hidden behind the argument that team sports require different sets of rules as compared to individual sports such as athletics, cycling, tennis, swimming, baseball (huh? baseball?) . . . Wait!!! Isn't that a team sport? FIFA says that players are in the training ground six days out of seven, so the stringent "whereabouts rule" need not be applied to footballers.

 

But weren't the Major League Baseball (MLB) players also on the training ground day-in and day-out? They still did manage to find time for their "dopey" activities, while their peers kept wondering to themselves, "How the hell am I ever going to play at that guy's level?"

 

Frankly, given the amount of money involved in the club game these days, and with the absurd level of weekly salaries being earned to kick around a football, it shouldn't be too much to ask to submit to a surprise dope test. I think what FIFA is mainly worried about is player power, or maybe that this testing procedure might actually result in someone getting caught. Come on you pampered millionaire footballers. If you have nothing to fear, why is a random drugs test such a big issue?

 

After all, it did take some time to sort through the match-fixing scandal in Serie A, with all the demotions and docking of points. So it is unlikely that FIFA and UEFA can afford another scandal. A doping scandal, the scale of which is even half that of the one being seen in MLB, is likely to taint several records and score lines in this beautiful game.

 

If team sports like cricket can submit to strict anti-doping regulations, what is stopping FIFA from merely going the extra mile to confirm what it already believes to be true, i.e. "football is a clean sport."

 

The financial scale of the football industry has become too huge, and the stakes may be too high in FIFA's opinion to risk any sort of doping scandal. To FIFA, UEFA, and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), I'd like to say: please stop trying to hide behind the argument of individual sports being the major breeding ground for doping when you have the example of MLB in front of you.

 

It's not a witch-hunt that WADA is initiating, rather a drive to make the game appear as clean as possible. In today's high-stakes world, it would not be inconceivable for a professional footballer to try to "enhance" his abilities on the field if it continues to get him heavy financial rewards. A FIFA doping circus with sworn statements and affidavits, and perjury trials is the last thing one wants.

 

No one would like to see Mr. Favorite sitting there in the post-World Cup final press conference trying to explain to his global legion of fans (a la Alex Rodriguez) that he "made a stupid mistake" and "it won't happen again."

 

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