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Opinion: Doping in football

Joscha Weber / alMarch 3, 2015

Germany's Bundesliga is facing the biggest doping scandal in its history but, already, football fans are starting to get dismissive about the issue. They definitely shouldn't, says DW sports editor Joscha Weber.

A scene from a match beteween Bayer Ürdingen vs. SC Freiburg in 1982
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Everyone seems to be acting so surprised. Doping? In football? In our wonderfully, perfect Bundesliga? It can't be true. Should we really believe the findings of this independent special commission at Freiburg University?

Yes, dear football fans, it is plausible. Doping in football took place and it probably still does. But, we knew that well before yesterday's headlines.

Do you need some examples to refresh your memory? What about the proven use of Epo by Juventus in the 1990s? Or the statements about systematic team doping in the French Ligue 1? Or the Italian judge who uncovered 70 "very suspicious" deaths in the country's football scene.

DW sports editor Joscha Weber
DW sports editor Joscha WeberImage: DW/S. Nestler

Then there was German player Toni Schumacher talking about the use of stimulant Captagon. What about the vanishing client list of Eufemiano Fuentes, which apparently included FC Barcelona and Real Madrid? Or the mystery injections for the World Cup-winning German team in 1954? And then, more recently, the positive doping tests on Pep Guardiola, Edgar Davids and Diego Maradona. Anyone who thinks that doping doesn't exist in football, is ignoring the facts.

Players used to run five kilometers per match

German national team doctor Tim Meyer once said that the complex performance aspects required to play football are the sport's best protection against doping. I disagree. Running fast and having great endurance will always help you as a footballer. And this is what doping achieves.

The statistics are certainly concerning: years back, players used to run around five kilometers per game, these days some players run 14 kilometers a game. The number of sprints per match has also increased markedly. And, the fastest Bundesliga players reach speeds of 35 kilometers an hour (21.75 miles per hour).

Is it all just because footballers train better these days? That seems pretty doubtful. The problem can't be just dealt with using a dismissive comment like, "doping doesn't help in football anyway."

Some 60 files now show that the former sports doctor Armin Klümper was involved in doping with at least two Bundesliga clubs. According to the investigating commission at Freiburg University, the doping occured in the "late 1970s and early 80s." At VfB Stuttgart it was "at considerable levels" while at SC Freiburg it was apparently "now and then." The report allegedly shows that there is "clear proof" that anabolic steroid doping was done systematically in German professional football.

Members of Freiburg University's special commission into doping
Members of Freiburg University's special commission into dopingImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Haupt

There's not much gray area there. Yet, already, there are people saying that the allegations are "not believable" and "silly." Or that the cases are from long ago and therefore not relevant. They are the usual arguments and unfortunately many people will still believe them.

But actually, what football really needs right now, is to get serious about clearing this up. It needs transparency rather than a veil of silence, it needs to deal with the problem rather than to look away. Football has a doping problem. Acknowledging this is the first step on the way to the truth.