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June 2021

Journalists still working hard to ensure that football ignores the drugs cheat threat

By Tony Attwood

Oliver Holt in the Mail got rather exercised this week claiming,

“The seven minutes and 16 seconds encounter with Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman shows athletics has lost its drugs battle”

His sub editor then gave us some headlines…

  • A journalist asked Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman why 100m running times had slowed down in recent years
  • Bolt laughed off question and said the female reporter was being ‘disrespectful’
  • However it was a fair question which shows the sport is scared of the truth

The article suggests

“There is vituperation, there is intimidation, there is ignorance, there is disingenuousness, there is sycophancy and, most of all, there is denial. There is lots and lots and lots of denial.”

‘The winning time today,’ says the journalist, ‘was the slowest for a gold medallist since 2003 and the marks in general were much slower than the last edition of the World Championships. I would like to know from you guys whether you think there is any kind of relationship with a stronger anti-doping control?’

And the Mail’s correspondent adds

Bolt is not accustomed to being asked questions like this; informed, reasonable questions that are based in fact and which make a valid point that demands a considered answer.

Cut now to the coverage of two Manchester United players becoming agitated about being asked to do drugs tests after a match because they wanted to celebrate with their colleagues.

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Or a player failing a drugs test after a European match against Arsenal, and the player getting a light ban while nothing but nothing happens to the team.  No disqualification, no penalty, nothing.

Or Uefa claiming that it was going to have to pull out of anything to do with the Word Anti-Doping Agency because it was unrealistic and didn’t have all the facts.

Or a Liverpool player going through a series of tests ordained by Uefa and being found guilty of having a drug in his blood stream and thus being banned, when in fact the drug wasn’t on the proscribed list.  The problem was that the sample was sent to the wrong lab, and they tested the sample for what they always tested for.  No one noticed that the drug found was not proscribed.

But that’s Uefa.

And what has the Daily Mail been saying about this chaos and confusion?

Nothing much.  So it is time to ask, “why not?

There are several possible reasons.   One is because they are concerned that they might lose some of their audience – although this seems unlikely since they are generally quite happy to knock all sorts of teams and players – especially foreign teams and foreign players.

Another is because they don’t believe that the football going public is interested – and that might well be true – but then that has never really stopped newspapers before from going on and one about topics until people do take notice.  That is often journalism at its best.

Another is because they actually don’t think that drug taking in sport matters too much – although the article I am citing above suggests otherwise.

And finally, because there is a general agreement between the newspapers that one doesn’t do football and drugs stories.  And that could explain the Mail along with the rest of the British media utterly and totally refuse to cover drugs in football.

And I would ask you to consider just how weird this is for a moment.  Footballers in the Premier League are largely foreigners – exactly the people that the Mail blames for many of the woes and ills that the UK faces at the moment.   So you would think this would be a perfect opportunity for the Mail: let’s go after the foreigners in the Premier League – because they are bound to be drugs cheats.  But no.

Yes, when we discovered that 13 players had failed drugs tests in England and that the FA was covering up the results they made a bit of a fuss in as much they had a single article on the issue, but they left it at that.

And I would point you towards another issue that arose here as they focus on Bolt’s refusal to answer questions about why running times have slowed down.   “He is supposed to be part of the solution but this just makes him seem like part of the problem.”

Newspapers are supposed to hound out drugs cheats and expose them.   But in football they don’t.  They turn a blind eye both to the cheating and the half-hearted approach of Fifa and Uefa.  Which makes the Mail and other newspapers and media outlets in the UK part of the drugs problem in football.

And when they find the story they don’t call out the FA for its secrecy – they basically report it once and let it go.  And they heap praise on the FA because, “Football already conducts more tests than any other sport in England. UK Anti-Doping testers working on behalf of the FA took 2,442 samples last season and the quantity is expected to top 3,000 this season.”

But pause for a moment.  How many people play football in competitive leagues, and how many track and field athletes compete in competition?  There are 40,000 association football clubs in England alone.  Using the UK athletics club website there are I reckon about 2,000 athletics clubs.

On this basis one could say football is 20 times as popular as athletics.  So there ought to be 20 times as much drugs testing going on.  And 20 times as much coverage in the papers.

And when a player is banned for drugs, it is covered up.   Berahino of WBA was said to miss last season in part because he was not fit.  He was in fact banned for failing a drugs test.  WBA suffered no consequence.   The media gave the real reason a passing mention, but nothing more.

The only way to sort this is to have the clubs suffer when a player fails.  Not necessarily the first time, but maybe the second.  Or when two players in the same club fail in the space of three years.  That would certainly stop the problem.   And stop the Mail’s self-serving approach which suggests that without them, no one would be fighting the problem of drugs in sport.

To quote the Mail

“There is vituperation, there is intimidation, there is ignorance, there is disingenuousness, there is sycophancy and, most of all, there is denial. There is lots and lots and lots of denial.”

Yep, I think when it comes to football we can see it.

7 comments to Journalists still working hard to ensure that football ignores the drugs cheat threat

  • para

    I think truth is a very perspective based thing, especially in todays world of cut throatism.

    We know that hardly anyone speaks the real truth, especially in the media interviews and such. There is so much fear of not being PC, being sued etc. and stirring up issues that need to be addressed which most want to keep buried.

    I still amazes me that we still want to think that truths are told, again in the media where their whole agenda is to stir controversy for viewing figures and “enjoyment”.

    Try telling truths where ever you go, you will soon see how you are shunned and disregarded by people.

    You will get the reputation of being too serious, too negative or any of the other labels that just don’t fit into societys current mindset.

    So we plod along folowing the crowd until we realise we are at the edge of the cliff, but it’s too late then for those behind you just push you over.

  • omgarsenal

    Maybe the PIGMOB should be the first organization taking drug tests before every match?

  • Gord


    Does WADA have a test for LSD? Psilocybin?

  • Gord

    Arsenal U23 vs Derby County

    Apparently Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin and Kieran Gibbs started in this contest, which Arsenal won 3-2.

    Reiss Nelson with the brace, and Eddie Nkietah with another.

    I was reading a report by The Sun, and of course they are less than flattering for most of the article.

    But, congratulations to the U23. And it was nice to see Jack, Francis and Kieran in action.

  • Gord

    I think Paul Merson should hand in a transfer request.

    But who the heck would want him?

    Maybe the newspaper in Cambridge Bay might get him to review whale blubber recipes?

  • Dom

    Interesting piece Tony. Nevertheless, the journalist’s question to Bolt and Co was confrontational and rhetorical.The question inferred that their and other performances were lessened owing to a tighter drug test control system.
    Now this may be the case, but if you were Bolt and if you were clean, you might indeed find this question disrespectful.That is the problem with journalism…put a question which can only be answered in a controversial manner, which in turn creates more ‘journalism’.
    However I have always suspected that ALL sports are infected with PED and where there is big money, the more the controls are elastic.
    Bring in the FBI I say ! 🙂

  • Polo

    This is taken from The Sun:

    ‘Wenger has added France striker Alexandre Lacazette for £46.5million this summer and led his team to victory over Manchester United in the Community Shield.’
    Unless I was totally drunk, I’m certain that Arsenal played Chelsea. But than again, it look like Manchester United is turning into Chelsea, first Matta, then Moaninho, now Matic.

    The so called journalist can’t even get his facts right, what hope is there for an in depth investigation on a particular issue.