The expertise that goes into doping your way to success is immense. It’s not lone wolves, rather a team. This is from a European rowing champion we interviewed for Champtalks in 2020
I went for bloods, a Professor went through the results and I went to the [name redacted] University for a day of cardio and training. More blood was taken. Three days passed and I went to our Team Doctor. He’d consulted with those medical people and my coaches, including the National coach. I was testosterone deficient and also anaemic. I went on a course of shots and pills. Jesus, I exploded. Just exploded. Never did I have such energy or power. I gave a urine test once a week, bloods sort of the same. I don’t know what happened. I only know I was winning.
I asked if they felt as if they were doing something illegal or immoral. The answer was the common sport refrain – they were all at it if I was doing it. Our team, opponents, they were all doing it.
Coincidentally, on the day my article was published in March 2020, Dr Rob Chakraverty was paid off by the English FA. Not banned, not disgraced, just paid off. This after BBC’s Panorama exposed the Nike sponsored doping of Alberto Salazar and friends. But never fear, experts who can guarantee performance are never out of work for long, the man whose behaviour was found “inexcusable” by a Commons Inquiry is now back in football at Jorge Mendes’s own plaything Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Chakraverty, the man who 1) forgot to record giving Mo Farah huge amounts of a PED in 2014, 2) worked medical wonders at UK Athletics from 2009 to 2016, 3) was blocked by Premier League clubs from testing players for thyroid and asthma conditions shortly after joining the FA in 2016, had already joined Wolves during a pandemic lockdown.
Why would a Premier League club sign a needle-happy, chronic condition-seeking, forgetful and TUE facilitating expert who understands the sports law of omerta? And during a lockdown? And the English media, not just sports, ignore it? Answers on the back of a postage stamp, please.
Win at all costs
After September’s article, the usual responses were – “haha, we knew it, Liverpool are doping” from rival fanbases and “they’re all at it, look at your own house” from fans closer to home. Some genii amongst the Liverpool fanbase also dreamt up of lawsuits and a few even uttered physical threats. And of course, the lowest level was pointing to the fact that I am based in Russia, as if being based here somehow negates my being able to discuss doping.
The most balanced response, from even the most dedicated Liverpool supporters, was – “I hate that it’s happening, but I’m sure it is and it points to an illness in sport.” Self-reflective Glasgow Rangers fans even questioned their own club and body changes in players. I’d an hour long call with a Bayern Munich fan leader who told me he accepts what his club does and ultimately, it’s the player’s choice. He’s right. It is the player, but also the manager and the club officials. Damien Richardson told me on a train journey to Ulyanovsk,
“I abhor it because it’s dangerous and every person has physical weaknesses, but what can a manager do except caution players.”
A step beyond it is dobbing player in to the authorities. If you have a suspicion, you have to do it according to anti-doping laws. If you don’t, and the person fails a test, you could be held liable. I had this myself with one tennis player and was even threatened with suspension and litigation by Stuart Miller of the ITF. People know, people are scared and in the end even the most moral and active anti-doping advocate turns a blind eye. However media, we have no such excuse. We have a duty to report on what we see, to investigate and to ask questions. Up on that moral high horse it’s easy to forget that there really is no point. The morals of those below us are rather tainted. We’ve seen it with COVID-19.
Benjamin Mendy is special and must be held to different standards, according to his boss and convicted doper Pep Guardiola. In that call with the Bayern fan leader, he had lots to say about Pep, mostly positive. He also called him “ruthless beyond your imagination”. Pep imported his own fitness regime to Bavaria and he knows exactly what he’s doing. In defending Mendy hosting a New Year’s Eve party, Pep went on to say,
“I’m not justifying that, he broke the rules. But don’t give too many lessons to others. Of course it was not correct what he has done, but don’t judge him too much. Maybe many people have done the same. It’s easy to judge others. If everyone put those intentions aside, maybe it would be better.”
Swap out COVID-19 breach to doping violation and I will bet my house that Pep says the same. Mendy was not alone in breaking the rules. And while the Daily Mail lets both barrels go at Mendy, it also reports on other footballers who broke the law. The outrage they report comes from football fan tweets, the same paper sneakily pushed out a now disingenuous, discredited and disowned article about Jessica Ennis-Hill’s rather unusual links to a doping scandal.
Crystal Palace’s Luka Milivojevic was also guilty of breaking the law and captained his club the following Saturday. Once we realise that sports are not about obeying the norms of society and its laws, but winning, we can sleep a little easier at night. Did Manchester City fans turn on the club when they found out that from the beginning of Guardiola’s reign there were doping breaches? Why should they when the BBC’s very own Simon Stone states
However, as I understand it, the three breaches of the whereabouts rule were relatively low level. Still, it is slightly embarrassing for the Blues.
Yes Simon, doping is slightly embarrassing. Even moreso when it turns out a Doctor working with City was handing out fake TUEs for, amongst other PEDs, testosterone. As reported by the BBC’s Dan Roan. Dr Andrew Johnson was suspended for four years in 2020, when he was doling out certificates to cheat, he was working at Manchester City.
And West Ham were also found guilty and charged for breaching anti-doping rules. Case closed, we move on. That I’ve paid so little attention to West Ham in the past few years is not down to disillusionment with what goes on in their kitchen, rather one incident at Upton Park. It’s a topic for another article, but it made me feel very alone and very Irish.
New balls please
Back in 2018 a friend of mine gave a talk to a group of students in my former college. Having played at the top level of tennis she was well placed to discuss the stresses and pressures put on the body and mind. She stated categorically that to be top 20 in the world you simply had to dope. She supported it with reasoned argument that stacks up. While having the talent and skill is important, staying healthy and recovery are the two most vital elements.
In order to get to the top 100 a player will need to battle their way up the rankings, averaging two-three main draw matches per tournament. This is on top of qualifying matches. And they need to play in 20-25 tournaments to break the top-100. That is 40-75 main draw matches in a calendar year across a range of surfaces. And this doesn’t include doubles, which many players do for extra cash or as a fail safe.
The tournaments ramble across the world but she gave one example from her own career: May – Italy, France, Denmark. She played each week and flew between the countries. June – Germany, UK, Russia. July – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan. August – Canada, USA, Germany. Of 16 weeks she played in 13, she took one week off to visit her grandmother in Moscow and during those five days she practiced three days and was in the gym four days.
The chase to get enough ranking points to qualify for Grand Slam tournaments and top level tour events is a grind that breaks down the body and mind. Hopping between country, continent, climate and surface, if you refuse to juice, you are finished. It is simply impossible to do it clean long term. And if you’re a player who is a runner (chases down every ball and plays long rallies) you are going to suffer most. The governing bodies have made moves to change the situation, but not for the bread and butter players, why protect them when it’s only the top stars who matter. Cannon fodder is plentiful and if they’re not ready to dope, they’re not worth worrying about.
We don’t watch football to see wheezy lads in Anfield, or physical crocks at Old Trafford, or sleepy clowns at the Kingpower. We want heroes, we want warriors, we want magicians, we want more and more. The thing is, to do that, week in, week out, our heroes enter a meat grinder full of chemicals and pain that will destroy their bodies and minds. But sure it’s grand, they’re all at it.
Part 1 | Liverpool in Recovery