Keeping Jose Mourinho out of the spotlight is near impossible. And his impending divorce from Real Madrid after a loveless marriage was the talk of Madrid and the football world when they failed to overturn the Dortmund deficit
But something more significant than football results – yes even the Champions league results, even Jose Mourinho’s future – had concluded in Spain earlier in the day.
The trial of Doctor Eufemiano Fuentes in Madrid. If those in Spanish football think they can move on unaffected they need to be urged to think again. Spanish anti-dopers will fight this verdict. It would be best for Spanish football if they win
This was a chance for Spain to send out a message that their sport is finally being cleaned up. Remember doping wasn’t against the law back in 2006 when the Operacion Puerto raid exposed the doping secrets in a Madrid lab. It was a chance emphatically not taken.
Fuentes was found guilty but NOT sent to jail.
He was on trial for ‘endangering public health’. This is a technicality, the only way the Spanish authorities could seek justice within the constraints of the law. ‘Endangering public health’ is not what the Fuentes case is really about.
Overwhelmingly, the reaction in Spain has been one of disappointment at the verdict – a suspended one-year sentence. And more importantly, information from 200 notorious bags of blood – coded but unnamed – from Operacion Puerto will not be released. Anyone who doped WILL be getting away with it. And that poses a problem for this country’s reputation that should not be underestimated in the year Madrid bid again for an Olympic games.
So what has this to do with football?
Fuentes has claimed big unnamed clients have been working with him. A threat to bring people down with him? If and when he talks it could be a long night for some familiar names in football, tennis, athletics and other sports – NOT just cycling.
“From at least 2002, he had been practising blood extractions, generally of 450mg each, sometimes with two bags of the same amount, to certain sports athletes for retransfusion later on, with the exclusive aim of artificially improving their physical performance,” the judgment said.
The aim, according to the judgment, was to increase the red blood cell count. Fuentes also supplied cyclists with banned substances, including EPO, testosterone, insulin, and hormones.
Cheats are hiding in the long shadows created by the cyclists. Less testing, more scope for ‘confusion’ about products. Only doping rumours being attached to superstars in the world of twitter and social media are making a mark. But the evidence is not there if the bags of blood remain unnamed.
The World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) has identified football as a sport that has not come to terms with the threat of doping.
Earlier this year WADA President John Fahey said: “Football is not testing frequently enough for EPO; they can do more and we are encouraging them to do more.”
The English Premier League was mentioned, partly due to its profile but partly in response to Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger rightly questioning the lack of testing for drugs.
WADA’s David Howman said; “Ask whether every player in the Premier League has been tested four times in a year I think we all know what the answer is.”
But this is not just a problem for the EPL and La Liga. I’ve spent a lot of time covering doping in sport and had plenty of dealings with WADA. These are rational, intelligent, considered characters. If they say there’s a problem they should be listened to.
And FIFA do finally seem to be on the same page as WADA and are trying to raise their game. I understand the meeting between the organisations a couple of months back was productive and the need to target testing for the right substances is clear.
Making this happen in ALL countries has financial issues though. It’s like goal-line technology – just how prominent will it be in Africa as compared to Europe? Which brings me back to Spain.
Can football move on here untainted? Because if cycling had tried to move on and brush Lance Armstrong’s ‘work’ under the carpet, the sport might still be happily existing as a drug-riddled lie.
José Luis Astiazarán, the former Real Sociedad president, has had to come out and deny players doped during his reign – he is currently in charge of the body that runs La Liga and the Spanish second division.
And even Real Madrid has had to try and deflect allegations stemming from Dr Fuentes. He knew it would be inflammatory when he said they owed him money. They said this couldn’t be for medical services because he didn’t provide them with any. But that it may relate to him acting as a witness for them as they defended an article in le Monde. Was using Fuentes as a witness really the path one of the world’s top clubs had to go down? They haven’t done themselves any favours.
Some Spanish media have warned that people should not believe everything that is being written and said about the scale of doping amongst Spanish athletes.
Freelance journalist and broadcaster Joaquin Soler feels the issue will not affect Spanish football. He doesn’t mean there has been conclusively no doping, he just means that this scandal won’t affect football players in Spain, because this is an “endless argument that has been used abroad to discredit football players in Spain” (especially by the French). He also believes that the exhaustive medical check-ups show that football is the healthiest sport in Spain.
But whose names would have been on those bags of blood from Operacion Peurto? Who’s on Dr Fuentes list? Which very public figures will have had their ‘health endangered’ in Spain and beyond? Imagine if everyone had moved on from the Lance Armstrong case without going back and demanding the truth.
This cannot be ‘case closed’.
Trying to get to the bottom of this murky situation is Spain’s anti-doping chief
Ana Munoz, a lawyer who is determined not to be thrown off the track by people suspected of having something to hide.
Those with fingers being pointed at them include Spanish politicians – the conspiracy theory being they wanted Fuentes to help cover up doping and help Spain to success in a range of sports.
Another widely peddled theory in Spain is that the full truth will not emerge while the city of Madrid has an Olympics to bid for. This could play into the hands of Tokyo and Istanbul but it should not prevent justice, is the feeling of the public.
What is indisputable is that Spain has a record of success in a range of sports it can be proud of. Particularly football. That is the source of the real pride. Real Madrid, Barcelona and the national football team give people belief where the moneymen and politicians are failing. Talent, skill and ambition are a big part of the success. But has doping played a part too?
Have any of the footballers who have thrilled the world for the past decade been involved? The Spanish desperately hope that the answer is no. But, at the same time, why make this look like a cover-up and give a chance to those jealous of Spanish domination the opportunity to raise their eyebrows?
To their credit, the Spanish want to know the truth – even if there’s something or someone that will taint the magnificent achievements of their stars in sports like cycling, tennis, athletics….and football.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Al Jazeera broadcasts into 300 million homes across the globe, in 130 countries and millions more online at www.aljazeera.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lee on twitter: LeeW_Sport