Thursday, 31 March 2011

Doping, football and FIFA

Many people believe that doping in football is not a problem. After all the only high profile players in the last year to be caught out are Kolo TourĂ© and Adrian Mutu (both for self medicated diet pills). These footballers probably did not think that they were doing wrong when they tried to lose a little bit of weight and to be honest I don’t really think, in these two cases, that they meant to. However, there have been recent developments in the scientific field that have led to scientists working on drugs that could give many people advantages over their rivals. Surely then, FIFA would be monitoring the situation closely? Guess again dear reader, guess again.

The point of anti-doping in all sports, not just football, is to level the playing field so that individuals can win on talent and merit and not because they have taken some kind of wonder drug. Whilst this is all very noble and understandable, what if the playing field isn’t actually level in the first place? No, I am not talking about Manchester United playing Runcorn Linnets where the talent between the two teams would mean that Runcorn would have to be playing down the side of a cliff and with an actual bus parked in front of their goal to win. I am talking about people who have a genetic advantage over your bog standard bloke/lady.

Myostatin (bare with me here) is a protein that inhibits muscle growth. There are some people who have a mutation in their DNA that means that they have non-functional or fail to produce myostatin. This means that they have no way of inhibiting muscle growth. I’m sure you can work out what this means. They get massive.

Whilst you may think that someone who has been born that way should have every right to play football at any level, what if an entire team of these man-mountains was made? Surely this would be an unfair advantage? Even if it is a genetic one which the players themselves couldn’t help? It could arguably stop the progression of the modern game to prefer skill over brute force and players like Xavi and Pizzaro might become a thing of the past. It would not be the first time that players like this would be muscled out of the game as in the mid-2000’s it seemed that the passing playmaker had seen their last (this wonderful article by zonal marking explains more

So maybe then it would be in the best interests of FIFA to ban these players? After all many people are enjoying the resurgence of the pass as the more athletic players with less skill seem to not excite as much as Barcelona are doing so now. Well the answer to that would be no. Firstly it would be discriminatory to disqualify people on this basis and also this condition does seem to be rather rare (around about 1 reported case per year) so a team of supermen does seem unlikely in the near future. However the point above is not completely redundant. As research into this field develops there is the possibility that drugs could become available (for treatment of muscle wasting diseases) that could have the same effect as the genetic malfunction does. There is no doubt that certain players could see any drugs developed as an opportunity to get stronger and quicker with less effort and there are other areas of development (not just myostatin research) which could lead to therapies that increase the time it takes to heal injuries, stronger joints, faster thought and so on.

This must surely mean that FIFA must tighten up its anti-doping regulations to be progressive and make sure that loopholes are not found, for example if/when drugs that inhibit myostatin are found? Well FIFA don’t think so. They have recently rejected (2009) WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Agency) proposals to tighten up the regulations on testing as Sepp Blatter said that they would invade the privacy of football players. Whilst FIFA says it takes a hard stance on performance enhancing drugs it only carries out between 25,000-30,000 drug tests every year. When one considers how many professional football players there are worldwide (around 60,000) this does not seem like enough at all, as players would not get tested yearly.

Admittedly it does seem rather unnecessary for players to be available for testing 365 days of the year but how can FIFA say that they are tough on doping in sport when half of all professionals don’t even get tested every year? Surely they must increase the levels of testing to counterbalance the fact that they don’t want their players privacy invaded? To change nothing invites cheating in football. No-one is suggesting that it is rife in football (well not me anyway) but to quash any lingering doubts FIFA needs to take it more seriously.


  1. cant see the words...
    but after highlighting it all....
    To suggest a ban on people with this condition is ridiculous, where do you stop? Black people have longer achilles tendons, providing some sort of running benefit or some shit, I dunno do I?

  2. Yeh we've been having a few problems with that today. Not really sure why... Will try to sort it out!

    As for banning people, the possiblity of it depends on the want for a completely level playing field. I think, as does the author, that it should not be level as things currently are. Although I did read a very interesting article in Blizzard issue zero which suggested putting footballers in their own 'bands' as in boxing. So the footballers genes are looked at, his potential ability is found out and he is placed in his corresponding band, just as the division between lightweight and heavyweight is in boxing. Obviously this idea would have to wait for the science to be in place, but it's interesting food for thought nevertheless.