Liverpool and Uefa contemplate suing anti-drugs agency

By Tony Attwood

Proceedings against Mamadou Sakho of Liverpool by Uefa following his being found to have taken a banned subtsance were stopped and the case dismissed after Uefa stated that the drug should not have been on the banned list.

A Uefa statement read: “The independent Uefa control, ethics and disciplinary Body met in Paris and has reached a decision relating to the proceedings instigated against Liverpool player Mamadou Sakho, following the Europa League round-of-16 second-leg match between Manchester United and Liverpool (1-1), played on 17 March 2016.

Sakho’s threat to take the World Anti-Doping Agency to court is still on the table.  But WADA has the right to appeal against Uefa.   Indeed such an action seems likely since if WADA does not appeal against Uefa it will find it hard to avoid legal action by the player.  It will also make its own position look untenable in sport.  And since WADA is the authority to which everyone turns in order to stop the wholesale use of drugs, as seemingly has happened in Russia, that would be a very serious turn of events.

There is a lot of briefing in secret going on to the effect that the problem is very much WADA, and that WADA had been warned that the banning of the substance was wrong.   However the people saying this are very much remaining secret, which is always a suspicious sign, when there is no obvious reason why they should be secret.

What does seem to be a problem is that there is a suggestion that the Wada labs at first said the substance was ok, but then came back and said no, it is part of a grounp  of compounds which are prohibited.

Liverpool then took up the case and hired a lawyer specialising in the field to see whether higenamine, the compound at the heart of the dispute, was one that could be classified as a beta2, which would make it illegal.

However without definitive evidence Uefa said it would not extend the suspension while further investigation was ongoing.  The allegation then is that although some WADA laboratories check for higenamine, not all of them do.  This was then pushed out as a shock horror story – although it has always been the case, and always been known, that there are different grades of lab which test in various levels of depth.  This is essential if the system is going to work efficiently.  To test for everything would be impossible, just as testing every player would be.  The random nature of testing is what encourages footballers to stay clean.  Not knowing what lab a drug is going to is also part of the randomisation.

Ultimately though it was Uefa’s disciplinary body that announced that the evidence for higenamine being a banned substance was not valid, which casts Uefa has a higher authority on drugs matters than WADA.  In this regard Uefa is now outside of the anti-drugs movement in the rest of the world.

This situation is one in which certain organisations and individuals are trying to discredit WADA.  Indeed if you look into the background you will often find references to the “meldonium fiasco”.   The phrase makes it sound as if WADA is utterly incompetent (it is an approach we are very familiar with in terms of football journalist reporting), but in fact is a completely different matter.
Wada announced in September that it was adding meldonium to its banned list from 1 January.  But since then over 170 sports men and women have been found to have traces of it.  However many have claimed they stopped taking the drug last year, prompting many to question how long the drug can stay in an athlete’s system and a need for further investigation into this.

WADA therefore looked at the matter again, and concluded, “There is currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times,” and that some athletes “could not have known or suspected” meldonium would still be in their systems having taken it before it was banned.   “In these circumstances, WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete.”

WADA also said that the new guidance was “not an amnesty” for athletes and they must still explain to anti-doping authorities how the substance was in their body.

Of course the press, seemingly always happy to knock all regulatory bodies and question their competence, called this a climbdown, and the media and state organisations in Russia, seized upon it as a way of trying to discredit WADA and get their teams back into the Olympics.

In a statement, issued via the official news agency Tass, the Russian Sports Ministry said it “supports and welcomes the decision made by WADA because it has showed a willingness to understand the situation, rather than stick to the rulebook”.

But in reality WADA’s new guidance acknowledges that trace elements of meldonium can remain in the body “for a few months” if someone has been taking the drug for a prolonged period.  Nothing else.

None of which has much to do with a footballer being caught out with a different drug in his system.  Football is already fighting WADA over its view that the team should not be punished for the sin of a player – which effectively means that some clubs don’t go as far as they might to do their own drugs checks.   If Uefa wins this fight then football will put itself totally outside the drugs’ regulation regime for all other sports, which given the nature of the governing bodies in football, can hardly be a good thing.

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9 Replies to “Liverpool and Uefa contemplate suing anti-drugs agency”

  1. From the Wikipedia page on Meldonium.

    Nominally, a compound to improve circulation. Discovered in eastern Europe, and only manufactured there.

    > Kalviņš criticized the ban, saying that WADA had not presented scientific proof that the drug can be used for doping. According to him, meldonium does not enhance athletic performance in any way, and was rather used by athletes to prevent damage to the heart and muscles caused by lack of oxygen during high-intensity exercise. He contended that not allowing athletes to take care of their health was a violation of their human rights, and that the decision aimed to remove Eastern European athletes from competitions and his drug from the pharmaceutical market.

    It would appear that some people are taking a kind of warped point of view on arguing this. If people are taking this drug (compound) so that they can train harder than they should normally be able to, the object of this harder training is to develop an advantage over other athletes not taking it. It enhances performance.

    As this compound is only manufactured in eastern Europe, for it to be found elsewhere means that someone has gone to some trouble to get it. It is meant to be used for (ischemic) heart conditions.

  2. That Uefa wants to have control over drugs in football suggests that it has a hidden agenda that if it was publicly known would not be able to carry out.

    The sooner this Uefa ship was sunk the better the better fr football.

  3. That Uefa are even thinking of bringing action against a body that policies these kinds of things is shocking, and shows they don’t think doping is an issue in football. A strange view as Arsenal and a few other clubs have played against teams whose players were found guilty of doping. It’s sending the wrong message, and takes the fight to keep sport clean backwards a few steps. But then again Uefa lost all credibility a long time ago so no real surprise they’d think of doing anything like this. As for Liverpool the less said the better, suffice to say they seem too eager to appeal against everything leveled against their players (racist bans, biting bans, doping bans….).

  4. WADA was of course instrumental in exposing the widespread (even state sponsored) doping of Russian athletes in major championships such as the Olympics, leaving the IOC and IAAF looking complicit and ineffective.

    So for UEFA and Liverpool to try and discredit WADA is a bit rich.

    Last season, AW has raised the issue (quite diplomatically) about whether European and World football is burying its collective head in the sand about the scale of the problem in the game or the need for more rigorous and extensive testing. Let’s remember Arijan Ademi of Dinamo Zagreb who tested positive after a CL game vs the Gunners.

    Those athletes who take drugs, do so to enhance power/strength, speed and stamina – all factors relevant to football.

    UEFA’s comments have a sense of something nasty being swept under their expensive carpets.

  5. Beats me how a super fit PL footballer is taking slimming pills if not to enhance his performance.
    He and Liverpool would be better off thanking their lucky stars that the matter has been conveniently dropped and no further action taken, which I’m sure is what will happen anyway.
    File under “Nothing to see here folks”

  6. The compound Tony wrote about, doesn’t seem like a weight loss compound to me. If that is what Liverpool is claiming, it is a bit rich. For one thing, it isn’t part of any recognized over the counter product. It’s not available in England to purchase, someone had to deliberately import it.

  7. As far as superfit athletes taking drugs goes, a “trivial” situation is wrestling (Olympic style, not the choreographed stuff). It is common for people to use diuretics there, as they are trying to get into specific weight classes.

    That isn’t what this compound is about.

  8. Coming up on the BBC this Tuesday we have a documentary bout doping in sport.

    It’s been produced as part of the long running science series ‘Horizon’.

    For those that don’t know, Horizon is not exactly a ‘hard core’ exposé forum, more a fluffy ‘science for the non scientist’ affair.

    As such my hopes aren’t high that they’ll be digging the dirt on the likes of UEFA and there disgraceful efforts to discredit, and thereafter circumnavigate WADA.

    But, if they amaze me and do what they should it could be very interesting, alas my hopes are not high. This is the BBC after all.

    I will be watching with interest.

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