by Sam Peoples

The sporting world has been shaken by a number of allegations and admissions from some of the most famous athletes of the current era, including positive doping results for Olympic runners and the Lance Armstrong revelations.

Attempting to dispel some of the doping rumours around the 2006 World Cup, FIFA introduced an Anti-Doping Agency code designed to eliminate doping from football. However, despite their resulting claim in 2007, and again in 2014, that the World Cup was dope free, there is still considerable suspicion of doping in the sport.

Doping in European football

One of the biggest scandals to hit the FIFA doping campaign is the 2013 declaration by the former president of Real Sociedad, claiming that doping was a regular occurrence, naming a man who had already been arrested in relation to doping scandals.

The arrest had been made as part of an earlier doping scandal which included a positive test for steroids during the 2006 football season. Of a total of 1662 tests carried out among players across the European football leagues, nearly 940 tested positive for EPO, a doping substance supposed to improve performance. Since these revelations, there have been serious questions asked about the amount of drug use in Europe, and many followers of the football leagues (both European and national), have been asking questions about doping in their own teams.

Deaths of players

One of the reasons why so many people are asking questions about doping is the sudden deaths of 3 young professional players, and two other reported deaths in amateur leagues, in a short period during 2007. There have been other deaths in the years that followed, and several other cases where players in their 20s suffered life-threatening heart attacks. Players such as Zidane, and the famous Cristiano Ronaldo, have been under fire for suspicious peaks of energy which occur when most players have started to lag. The rate of player deaths has decreased in recent years, but there are still occasional, and sometimes unexplained, deaths. Suicide and major depression among retired footballers could also be linked to substance abuse during their career, and poses a serious threat to the lives of many older players.

Why are drugs so common?

In any sporting arena, there is a lot of pressure on players to be at the peak of performance when big events occur. Scientific studies have shown that the increasing number of competitive matches, with reduced recovery time, is leading to the use of steroids to promote the regeneration of muscles. EPO is chosen as it boosts performance, and tend to be traceable for only 48 hours.

Players in particular feel pushed to take drugs that they know are damaging in the long-term because they risk being replaced if they do not. This is a common occurrence across all types of sport, from swimming to rugby, and even gentler games such as cricket have had to overcome doping scandals. For many players, the most serious side-effects of long-term drug use involve becoming addicted to the drug, particularly those which contain steroids, and which affect their performance after leaving football to such an extent that they need sports drug rehabilitation services in order to fully recover. Alongside immediate threats to health, the long-term impact can also be devastating to players.

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