Following the recent publication of a report on doping in sport by a commission of the French Senate, rumours have been circulating about the anti-doping procedures in football in the late 1990s.
FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Jiri Dvorak clarifies what were the anti-doping regulations in sport at that time and explains how the fight against doping has evolved since then.
FIFA.com: There are new rumours being published in the media regarding the anti-doping procedures at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. What was the anti-doping protocol at the time?
Professor Jiri Dvorak: To put it in perspective, I’ve been FIFA’s Chief Medical Officer since 1994 and at the FIFA World Cup in the USA, so in 1998 it was my second World Cup. At that time, and as always, FIFA followed the regulations of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and since the establishment of WADA and the World Anti-doping Code in 2003 we were compliant and followed the protocol of WADA and the IOC.
At that time, in 1994, 1998 and 2002 there was no protocol of storing samples, not a single international federation stored the samples from their competitions. At that time, we are talking of 15 years ago, the accredited IOC laboratories were not equipped with storage rooms for large amount of samples. It was only in 2004 when the IOC following, I think, the 27 positive doping cases at the Olympic Games in Athens ordered to store the samples for several years to reassess them.
We have stored suspicious samples from the past 15 years, but it was only at the London Olympic Games in 2012 when the IOC decided that samples would be routinely stored for at least eight years. But this is only the recent development.
At that time, in 1998, to the best of my knowledge it was only the French Government under the leadership of the Sports Minister Madame Buffet who ordered to store the samples only from Tour de France athletes. That was the reason at that time. International federations were not storing samples.
When did FIFA start blood sampling and testing of EPO?
We had several scandals like the Festina affair at the Tour de France and EPO came into the mindset. 2002 was the starting point when laboratories could directly detect EPO. For the 2002 World Cup, we decided that we would take blood samples from all players selected for doping control; we had 256 players. We had the blood samples and we were looking, the same as for the Tour the France and UCI, for the indirect parameters, which are the levels of haemoglobin, haematocrit, the red blood cells and the young blood cells. We analysed them and statistically saw that all the values were within the normative population. There was no indication that players were manipulating them. That was actually the first systematic application of blood sampling for the indirect controls. For EPO we do the direct testing in urine and also the indirect testing in blood.
How have the anti-doping procedures in football evolved over time? What are they like today?
We have to see it from a bigger perspective. We have realised from the statistical analysis that if we do more sampling procedures we will not catch more cheats. The amount of cheats has remained the same over the past seven or eight years even though we all have increased the number of sampling procedures.
So we have to look for more sophisticated ways of looking and getting information about potential manipulations, for instance during training periods, during the preparation for a competition. In this respect we have initiated the steroid profiles with the examination of nandrolone in 1998. In the mid-2000s we did a testosterone study and we have seen that each person has a genetic blueprint, more or less the same steroid and hormone profile. The moment you start to manipulate your body you alter that. The first pilot was done during the FIFA Club World Cup 2011 and then again in 2012. Now we have decided to implement the biological profile, with blood and urine analysis, for the FIFA Confederations Cup, which was already done, and for the World Cup in 2014. So all players will be part of the database and we can compare. And now we are also in discussion with UEFA and other confederations to start this biological profile in the confederations so all the top players will be registered. And if we have a suspicion then we go into the more intelligent and targeted testing.
How confident are you that there is no doping in football?
I am confident that there is no systematic doping in football. There is no systematic doping culture in football. I am confident of this. Of course there are individual cases, for sure. We do more than 30,000 sampling procedures every year and we have between 70 to 90 positive cases, most of them for marijuana and cocaine and we have also anabolic steroids, but these are individual cases.
So there are some cases; that’s why we are doing so many controls with such a stringent protocol. But we don’t have scientific evidence from the statistical analysis – and for me as a scientist I believe in facts and figures, not in speculation: We have no evidence that there is systematic doping.
On the other hand, we don’t think that the more we do sampling procedures the more we find. The absolute number of positive cases remains the same even though we are increasing the number of procedures 10 to 15 per cent per year. That’s why we started to think about the biological profile because this might be the solution for the future. We want to be more efficient but also cost effective. There are hundreds of millions spent on doping controls and the fight against doping worldwide and we think that if we establish a biological profile, then we will have a longitudinal follow up of each player by testing blood and urine with several samples procedure of the same player, and if we have a suspicion we can be much more efficient and go into targeted testing.
We also think that it would have a much more deterrent effect from an educational point of view, because then it’s very difficult to manipulate or cheat since we have the longitudinal results.
There is also a very positive side effect of it: if we have this longitudinal follow up of specific hormones and steroids of the body we know that there are some hormones that are produced by malignant tumours.
For instance, in the young male population the most that we are afraid of is the testicular malignant tumour which produces an elevation of the so-called human choriogonadotropin hormone. Every year we have a few of them, and I feel obliged as a doctor to inform my colleagues and the player that there‘s this possible underlying pathology. So we check by a specialist and we had cases were an early intervention saved lives. This is one of the reasons why in the anti-doping structure the physicians must play a key role because we understand the human body, we understand the science, we are educated for that.