FIFA medical officer Professor Jiri Dvorak has held a joint media teleconference, along with representatives of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the Mexican government and the Mexican Football Association, after over 100 samples taken at this year’s FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico returned positive adverse findings for clenbuterol.
FIFA and WADA jointly declined to prosecute any cases because the overwhelming weight of evidence pointed to contamination in meat consumed by players during the tournament.
This follows a decision by WADA last week to withdraw its appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) regarding the decision not to sanction five Mexican footballers who tested positive for clenbuterol during the CONCACAF Gold Cup in June 2011.
Tests after the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which was played during June and July, revealed players from 19 of the 24 teams had adverse findings of the banned anabolic agent (clenbuterol) in 109 of 208 urine samples.
Participating in the teleconference along with Prof Dvorak were WADA legal director Olivier Niggli, Mexican Football Association president Justino Compean, and Mexican government health official Mikel Arriola.
“This is a concern related to public health,” said Prof Dvorak. “That’s why we decided we are ethically obliged to inform the public about the entire situation to be transparent and open on the appropriate actions which may be done in other countries aside from Mexico.”
“As FIFA we want to acknowledge the decision of WADA to have accepted the provided evidence which we sent on 16 September this year, offering everything we have discovered since the five Mexicans players at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and those from the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico were tested with Adverse Analytical Findings.”
“We appreciate WADA followed the scientific evidence and deciding to withdraw the appeal from. Science prevailed and it’s the foundation for any decision made by the legal authorities.
“The background which led to the decision is that in April this year, the German anti-doping organisation issued a warning to the sports federations and anti-doping organisations that athletes should be cautious when travelling to Mexico and China as there is a possibility to produce adverse analytical findings due to meat contamination. We took note of this but as this is warning which was not commented upon or reinforced by WADA, we continued with our preparation for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico.
“In the first week of the Mexico U-17 World Cup, we were confronted with three Adverse Analytical Findings with clenbuterol. In the second week, there was a fourth case. In the past 20 years, we never had an Adverse Analytical Findings at a FIFA U-17 World Cup. We received the results on the 14 September and to our enormous surprise, out of the 208 samples, 109 samples presented a presence of clenbuterol. 52.4 per cent of the players presented traces of clenbuterol.”
Prof Dvorak said that while the positive adverse analytical findings were a local health concern, there was no danger to participating players, with the Mexican authorities providing exceptional co-operation in this matter. “The findings showed there was increasing evidence of a problem, but not a problem of doping, but of public health,” said Prof Dvorak. “To make it clear we knew there was absolutely no danger of harm to the players during the U-17 World Cup.
“Only five teams were not presenting any Adverse Analytical Findings. The combined evidence led the anti-doping unit of FIFA to recommend to the disciplinary committee not to proceed with the cases from the U-17 World Cup and not to allow any speculation, that’s why we did not go public about the names of the players and the countries.
“I have to also say that we have had an excellent and unique collaboration in the matter of anti-doping during these three months between the Mexican government authorities, the Football Association of Mexico, the scientists of the different laboratories and the German anti-doping organisation.
WADA representative Olivier Niggli re-iterated that contaminated meat is an issue in Mexico. “WADA decided to withdraw its appeal to CAS after compelling evidence was given by FIFA,” he said in relation to the five CONCACAF Gold Cup players.
“There is no doubt in our mind it’s a serious health issue in Mexico with regard to meat contaminated with clenbuterol, a public health issue that is now being addressed urgently by the Mexican government. WADA is reassured that the Mexican government is trying to solve the problem. In the meantime, WADA will continue to tell athletes travelling to Mexico to exercise extreme caution in regards to what they eat and where they eat. As far as WADA is concerned, clenbuterol is still a prohibited substance and we will have to approach each case on an individual basis.”
Mexican health official Mikel Arriola advised that the Mexican government will ensure that the problem of contaminated meat continues to be addressed. “Mexico institutions prohibit the use of clenbuterol in meat production and it has criminal implications,” he said. “However the use of this substance was detected and fought by the Mexican authorities during recent years. We are of course going to continue inspections to avoid contamination of the general population.”
Mexico Football Association president Justino Compean expressed his gratitude for the co-operation of all parties following the withdrawal of the case against the Mexican CONCACAF Gold Cup players and the participants at Mexico 2011. “I would like to thank FIFA and the health authorities of Mexico who we worked very closely with,” he said. “It’s been 120 very tough days for the players and for Mexican football. We are very happy that WADA accepted to withdraw the appeal to CAS. We presented a very strong defence, with very well documented evidences. Since day one we knew the players were innocent.”
While no action will be taken against the players in this case, Prof Dvorak had a final word of advice: “Because the five senior Mexico team players tested positive, the U-17 team decided indeed to have a vegetarian diet during the whole competition. And guess what, they won the competition! So the message for the players is ‘don’t even think of taking the risk because it’s not worth it’.”