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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 May, 2003, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Football's growing drug culture
By Dan Warren
BBC Sport

The only drugs in football used to be booze and fags.

For decades, footballers in the United Kingdom had a decidedly unhealthy reputation, with even the best players known to be partial to the odd tipple.

Failing a drugs test would inevitably be as a result of a recreational drug such as cocaine or marijuana rather than a performance-enhancing steroid or stimulant.

Edgar Davids
Egdar Davids tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs
But things are changing.

And as footballers in this country realise grilled fish is better than battered cod, so they become more interested in other ways to boost performance.

The improvement in players' diets came about from a gradual acceptance of the ways being pioneered on the continent, Italy in particular.

Better awareness of health is undoubtedly a positive thing - but other trends from the land of Serie A are not so encouraging.

When Lazio coach Zednek Zeman claimed the game was rife with dope in 1998, he was roundly pilloried in the Italian press, by the Italian authorities and by the fans.

But one Turin-based magistrate took him seriously - and uncovered a shocking culture of shambolic testing and cover-ups.

In the past, dodgy tests had been binned to avoid any controversy and embarrassment.

Now two players from each team are tested after every Serie A and Serie B game, which has led a number of players falling foul of the law, chief among them Edgar Davids and Fernando Couto.

There have also been a clutch of positive tests in Greece, Holland, France, Germany and Spain.

The one major place where there has never been a positive test in the top division for PEDs is England.

Could this be because the footballers here are more morally pure than their European counterparts?

Fernando Couto has also tested positive
Couto has also tested positive

Even the most Anglo-centric football fan would admit that is highly unlikely.

Especially considering the manner in which drug tests are carried out over here, which is rather like Italy pre-Zeman's revelations - less than thorough.

The FA insists the level of testing is appropriate and tougher than in many other European countries.

But 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.

That represents a tiny fraction of the total players in action.

At that level of testing you would have to play professional football in England for 432 years before having a 50% chance of being tested at a match.

With the foreign influence on the British game growing all the time - and some clubs having more overseas players than home-grown stars - it is difficult to imagine that what happens on the continent is totally different to here.

And given the problems which have blighted athletics, cycling and rugby, it would be very odd indeed if football could legitimately claim to be drug-free.




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