Could Soccer Be a “Dope-free” Sport?

Egypt's Ahmed Fathy challenges Algeria's Karim Ziani during their World Cup 2010 qualifying soccer match in Cairo

Chances are, you’ve been hiding under a rock if you haven’t seen at least a little of the World Cup 2014 coverage. Or maybe you’re a fanatic and have been following all of the the “football” (to the rest of the world) action. If so, you may have seen the headlines touting the fact that at one point, no player in the World Cup had tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. Does soccer have a secret that other professional sports don’t know about? Most other professional sports fight against a varying degree of scandal and finger pointing over the use of performance enhancers and the tests needed to catch cheaters. Could soccer truly be a doping-free zone?

Fans of the World Cup, and professional soccer in general, already know that FIFA, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, is on top of its game when it comes to focusing on the sport and the players, quickly policing problems like security, fixed matches, and now, it appears, they are just as serious about keeping the sport clean. Players in the 2014 World Cup are subject to truly random drug testing, as evidenced by USA’s team goalie Tim Howard jokingly announcing that right after the USA’s match up with Belgium, he was ordered to go take a drug test. He mused that it may have been because of his stellar performance during the match: he made 16 saves during the game, a record-breaking total. In a world where professional athletes are routinely shown to be all too human when they perform the superhuman feats of competition, it can be forgiven that some may wonder if the superstar goalie had a little inject-able help.

However, it seems FIFA may be a little too strict when it comes to testing for performance enhancers. Previous to the random test of Howard after his dazzling performance, FIFA came under fire for sending seven players from the Costa Rican team to get drug tests after their win over Italy – since the mandated number of tests is only two. Also, the Federation is known for giving more than just urine sample tests. They draw and test blood, which is the only way to test for the presence of increased levels of Human Growth Hormone. So is this the protocol of an organization focused on providing a clean game? Or an overzealous governing body trying to catch their own players in the act? (Sound familiar, MLB?)

Another angle is that soccer is a sport that is somehow just . . . cleaner. Just like professional hockey or NBA basketball, you don’t hear much about doping scandals like you do, say, with baseball or cycling. The 2014 World Cup is a good example of the cleanliness of the sport, when, as of June 20, none of the athletes who had undergone drug testing came away with a positive test. And this is even though FIFA has actually made the testing procedure harder on themselves! The lab available for use lost its WADA accreditation in 2013 because it had too many false positives, so FIFA is paying to have the urine and blood samples shipped to an approved facility in Switzerland.

In addition to the lengthy measures FIFA is taking to ensure their athletes are clean, they have their gleaming record to stand behind as one of the cleanest sports around. Not only had there been no positive tests as of the 20th of June – with almost every player tested before the World Cup began, and a mandatory two players tested (randomly) at each game – there hasn’t been a failed doping test during the World Cup . . . in over 20 years! The last player to test positive was Diego Maradona for ephedrine in 1994. So whatever measures FIFA is taking, it’s working. The World Cup broadcasts capture the attention of the entire world for all the right reasons: talented athletes competing against the same, and the winners proudly showing that they can play and win with training, determination, and skill – not drugs.

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