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Doping in football

Jonathan Sachse / phAugust 16, 2013

For a long time, doping in football was considered a taboo subject. The revelations of recent days have changed that, with German football having its own questions to answer.

doping control officer in a German stadium Foto: Arne Dedert dpa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Times have changed, following the latest revelations on systemic doping in German sports: When national football team coach Joachim Löw fronted a press conference recently he was asked about his stance on doping in soccer.

"We all want a clean sport, including us at the DFB [German Football Association]," said Löw, who recalled his players had been summoned at 05:30 in training camps for testing. "And I'm completely in favor of that; of a return to a continuous and thorough testing process," he quickly added.

Löw employed strong words to describe the actions of his employer against doping. He praised the work of his organization, although the DFB had, prior to now, shown little interest in seriously investigating doping allegations from generations past.

Researchers link doping to the 1954 and 1966 World Cups

Seven years ago, sports historian Erik Eggers published a paper on the 'heroes of Bern'. For years, he had investigated the Germany team in 1954. His conclusion: Many players in the World Cup-winning had received injections, most likely with Pervitin. It was the same stimulant administered to fatiguing soldiers and airmen in World War II.

Were the 'heroes of Bern' in 1954 doped? Eggers researched further. While working on the contentious report "Doping in Germany from 1950 to today", he discovered correspondence between world football governing body FIFA and the German Athletics Federation (DLV) in 1966. With the doping tests introduced at the 1966 World Cup in England, three members of the Germany squad had tested positive to traces of ephedrine, FIFA said. Taking ephedrine was banned, but it did not lead to sanctions.

DFB archives a closed book

Kapitän Fritz Walter (M.) und Trainer Sepp Herberger (r.) werden am 4.7.1954 in Bern nach dem Sieg über Ungarn im Endspiel der Fußball- Weltmeisterschaft 1954 auf den Schultern von begeisterten Anhängern getragen. Walter, Ehrenspielführer der Nationalmannschaft, ist am 17.6.2002 im Alter von 81 Jahren gestorben. Dies teilte der Pressesprecher des 1. FC Kaiserslautern, Nowak, mit. Er sei um 15.15 Uhr in seinem Haus in Alsenborn friedlich eingeschlafen. Walter führte 1954 die Nationalmannschaft zum 3:2 über Ungarn und damit zum ersten von drei Weltmeisterschafts-Titeln des Deutschen Fußball- Bundes (DFB). Der Pfälzer war während seiner Karriere im Nationalteam, für die er 61 Länderspiele bestritt und in der er 33 Tore schoss, die rechte Hand von Erfolgstrainer Herberger auf dem Spielfeld.
The German World Cup winners 1954 are still revered as 'heros of Bern'Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The DFB responded by commissioning Germany Sports University professor Martin Nolte as an expert. Nolte confirmed a breach of the doping rules. His full findings, however, have not been published by the DFB, which has infuriated Eggers.

"Delivering simple statements that any expert could have come up with is not enough," Eggers said in an interview with DW. He believes the documents could help in the fight against doping. But the DFB restricted access to their archives and applied strict conditions for their release, rejecting attempts by Eggers and his research team to see the documents.

A 20-year-old Franz Beckenbauer stepped on to football's biggest stage at the 1966 World Cup. He has addressed doping allegations from his World Cup debut: "I was there. You did not know what doping was. You didn't even know what the word meant..." Beckenbauer was subject to at least one doping test during the tournament. Magazine Der Spiegel reported on July 18, 1966 that Beckenbauer and Siegfried Held were subject to urine tests after the first game of the tournament.

Schumacher's book a turning point

Doping tests were introduced to international football in 1966. In German football, however, officials declined to follow suit. "There are [German Sports Confederation] documents showing that former DFB general secretary [Hans Passlack] in 1979 … simply stated that they would not abide by its conditions when it came to doping," Eggers said.

Harald 'Toni' Schumacher's revelatory book "Beginning" was the turning point for doping. His insights into the team's medicinal approach at the 1986 World Cup made headlines. The goalkeeper's claims cost him his place with the national team and eventually led to his departure from club FC Cologne.

In 1988 - after years of refusing to adhere to the anti-doping rules of the International Olympic Committee - the DFB finally bowed to public pressure and introduced testing. The DFB granted the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) control over the blood tests of players. This ensured the potential detection of growth hormones and blood doping, with neither evident via urine sample.

Negligent doping controls

How seriously the anti-doping fight was considered remains to be seen, as demonstrated in a scene from Sönke Wortmann's award-winning film about the 2006 World Cup, "Germany: A summer fairy tale".

former German goalkeeper Toni Schumacher celebrating a goal for Germany in Mexico against Uruguay (1986). Foto: dpa/lnw (zu dpa 0558 vom 28.03.2012) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Toni Schumacher's book took a toll on his careerImage: picture-alliance/dpa
Franz Beckenbauer, Foto: Sven Hoppe dpa/lby +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Franz Beckenbauer says he didn't even know the word "doping" as a playerImage: picture-alliance/dpa

After Germany's last group match, Oliver Neuville was approached by doping control. A chaperone wanted to accompany Neuville to the toilet, but the player protested: "When there is someone there, I can't go," the forward said. The doping control agent allowed Neuville to fill the beaker behind a half-open door. It would have afforded Neuville plenty of opportunitiy to manipulate his urine.

Maradona also tested positive

Even despite the incomplete control mechanisms, 20 cases of doping have been recorded since testing was introduced. The doping history of world football is anything but pure. In April 2013, accused doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes told a Spanish court he had "cared for many areas of sports; football, boxing, track and field athletes".

FC Barcelona, ​​Real Madrid and Real Sociedad San Sebastian were three clubs linked with Fuentes. Barcelona have also been connected to another doctor accused of administering doping, Luis del Moral. Del Moral is a former team doctor of Lance Armstrong's US Postal Service team, and acted as a "medical advisor" for different football clubs after leaving cycling.

Diego Maradona gestures during a news conference in Naples February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca (ITALY - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)
Former Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona was tested positive in 1994Image: Reuters

At the 1994 World Cup, Argentine superstar Diego Maradona tested positive to, among other things, ephedrine, and was duly banished from the tournament.

Two years later, Juventus won the Champions League amid doping allegations from Italian authorities. The allegations were detailed in a 40,000-page document produced by prosecutors. In it appears the name of three-time world footballer of the year Zinedine Zidane, in connection with the blood doping agent EPO. Then-teammate and countryman Didier Deschamps has fronted the French Senate on doping allegations within the France national team, who he led as captain in the 1998 World Cup.

The list of potential doping offenses is long, but indicates the issue firmly belongs in the billion-dollar business of football.