By Tony Attwood
The alleged transfer of Jamie Vardy to Arsenal which emerged and then vanished again like a puff of cigarette smoke has taken another turn after the Daily Mail published pictures which shows Vardy carrying a supply of legal, but dubious, drugs.
This comes at a time after Uefa turned its back on WADA’s list of banned substances, and declared that it was not going to abide by the list, but instead come up with its own list. It then immediately took Mamadou Sakho off the suspended player list instead of banning him from playing having failed a drugs test.
Although that story was largely ignored by the media as it came in the days when the official word was that everything about Uefa and the Euros was wonderful, it has rumbled on in the background. Uefa has said nothing further about how far it is going to take the retreat from the drugs rules that the rest of world sport follows, and the media has instead turned to shocked amazement and total surprise at how Uefa could be so awful at policing a football match.
However the issue of Vardy’s preferred drug cocktail before matches has rumbled on. It is not illegal under WADA rules – although in the current climate even if it were there is no doubt that Uefa would immediately say that it was “holding an investigation” into WADA rules and excuse Vardy. But what Vardy is doing is certainly a way of artificially stimulating his physical ability while doing long term damage to his body and to his brain.
The evidence published by the Daily Mail shows Vardy carrying a tin of nicotine pouches in one hand and a can of Red Bull in the other. Both stimulants are listed by WADA as substances that are under consideration for banning orders – a consideration that will be brought forwards if they start to be used in competition.
The revelations have come as no surprise to the FA who have openly confirmed they know all about it, and are more than happy to allow it to happen, despite the obvious damage that nicotine causes in killing off brain cells and stopping new brain cells forming. If you are interested in the evidence of just how much damage nicotine does to the brain New Scientist ran an article on some research into the issues a while back, and you can read the results here. If you want a further insight into the addictive effect of nicotine, the US government health site has some helpful evidence here.
According to the Mail sources at Leicester acknowledge Vardy uses the addictive stimulant during games in order to improve his performance.
UK anti-doping chief Michele Verokken is quoted as saying, “The key question here for the anti-doping authorities is establishing, scientifically, if stimulants like nicotine are performance enhancing. It has been on the monitored list since 2012 and would only be an issue when used in competition [as is clearly the case now]. It would act as a stimulant by increasing the heart rate.”
WADA concluded that nicotine increased ‘vigilance and cognitive function’, and reduced stress and body weight. The Mail also quotes Roger Pielke, director of the sport governance centre at the University of Colorado, as saying ‘Both nicotine and caffeine are among the more well-studied performance-enhancing substances… There’s a study in my new book about caffeine across a range of sports and the performance enhancement is three to seven per cent, whether that’s rowing, sprinting or whatever.
‘Anyone who wakes up in the morning and has a cup of coffee or tea knows the performance-enhancing effects of caffeine. They’re perfectly legal and athletes take them, which is no surprise.
‘Used together, do they give you an added boost in terms of energy? I’m not aware of any studies which have looked at the double benefit but look at Maria Sharapova with her 30 medicines — athletes are going to take everything and anything they can that might give them a benefit, regardless of whether the science is there.’
However while Uefa has taken an increasingly relaxed view of drug abuse, rejecting the WADA list of banned substances, and also refusing to implement any punishment for a football club when a player is found to have played with a banned substance, the rest of sport has travelled in the opposite direction.
From the start of last year sporting competitors in every field other than Uefa controlled football who have been found to take performance-enhancing drugs can face bans of up to four years, rather than the two years that were laid down previously.
However a number of players were caught under WADA rules before Uefa started to change them unilaterally, including of course Adrian Mutu who failed tests at Chelsea and again later in Italy. Edgar Davids was caught taking nandrolone.
Many others, although caught, protest their innocence endlessly. Jap Stam still says he was innocent and appealed twice against his convictions also for the use of nandrolone. Pep Guardiola is another caught out with nandrolone, who protested his innocence. Six years after the findings he was cleared in 2007, but the case started up again in 2008, and in 2009 he won another appeal. He finished playing in 2006 and by 2007 was manager of Barcelona’s reserve team.
Mark Bosnich tested positive for cocaine while at Chelsea and Jake Livermore has more recently suffered the same fate. Kolo Toure got suspended for six months for taking some of his wife’s fat reduction pills.
The issue in football is however also one of public image and the whole team. When Jack Wilshere was caught smoking he was reprimanded by Arsenal, not just in terms of the damage the action was doing to his own body and mind, but also because of the responsibility that Wilshere is perceived by the club to have towards young fans, and in relation to the image of the club.
And that is the Vardy issue – he has the highest profile, and clearly neither the FA nor Uefa are going to do anything about his habit. But Arsenal is well known to take the public profile of its players very seriously, and where players have slipped the club has worked hard to help players like Adams and Merson overcome their problems. But taking on a player known to be behaving as Vardy is could – and in my personal view should – be another matter.
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