Thursday, 31 January 2013
Can Spain afford to reveal doping in football?
On the eve of the 2006 Tour de France cycling was rocked by yet another drug scandal, Operacion Puerto. The Spanish Police had uncovered a vast doping network organised by Dr Eufemiano Fuentes, a network used by some of the biggest names in the sport. Not since the Festina affair had the Tour been broadcast in such a negative light. The two favourites, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich were thrown out of the race along with Alexandre Vinokourov and Francisco Mancebo among others. Much to the annoyance of many cycling fans, the press coverage focussed primarily on the involvement of cyclists despite Fuentes himself stating that cyclists only made up roughly one third of his client base.
Fuentes stated on record that he counted track and field athletes, tennis players, hand ballers and footballers among his clients despite no names officially being linked to Puerto from any of the aforementioned sports. Why is it that the name of every cyclist on Fuentes' 'list' is public knowledge while the footballers or tennis players keep their anonymity? Even this week as the Operacion Puerto trial started the Spanish authorities explicitly stated that the trial would focus only on cycling. This is despite their acknowledgement of the involvement of other sports and pressure from WADA to release the additional evidence.
Why is Spain so keen to protect sports such as football at the expense of cycling? Put simply football is worth a lot more money to a failing Spanish economy, especially an international team that wins trophies. Financially they can't afford to reveal the truth.
In 2006 French newspaper Le Monde acquired two sheets of A4 paper whilst interviewing Fuentes at his Canary Island home, the sheets in Fuentes' handwriting were 'preparation plans' for the 2005-2006 season. Allegedly the 'preparation plans' were not for cyclists but for Barcelona FC with the Champions League and the World Cup as the primary goals. The plans contained circles for steroid cycles and 'IG' symbols similar to those used to indicate insulin use on a cycling plan found in Fuentes' Madrid office. In addition to steroid cycling and insulin use the plans also contained small 'e' notations and circles with a dot in the centre. These were thought to indicate when EPO injections and blood transfusions were to be performed. Barcelona denied the Fuentes link but did admit to attempting to hire him in 1996 and 2002, both times their offer was refused.
It's almost certain that despite Operacion Puerto, Fuentes continued to help athletes dope. This is evident by his involvement in Operacion Galgo (2010), in which Fuentes again found himself at the centre of a doping scandal. As a result of Galgo Fuentes spent a night in prison during which he reportedly bragged, "If I said what I know, goodbye to the World Cup and European Championship". It's worth noting that while Barcelona allegedly planned to 'prepare' for the World Cup in 2006, a large portion of the Spanish National team that won the World Cup in 2010 constituted Barcelona players. I highly doubt that Barcelona stopped doping post Puerto and Fuentes, it seems far more likely that Fuentes was simply replaced.
A World Cup and two European titles; the financial benefit associated with winning a World Cup alone is pretty staggering. ING estimated that by winning the World Cup Spain boosted their GDP growth by 0.25-0.5%, quite a big increase when you're really struggling. Add on the economic benefits from two European Championships and you can see how much international football has helped Spain since 2008. Even if you consider the tourism revenue from Barcelona and Real Madrid alone, Spain has a lot to lose if the truth was revealed.
It could be argued that Spain has already reaped the majority of the benefits associated with international football success. The big prize however is still to come, the 2020 Olympic games. If Spain were awarded the 2020 Olympics it would create jobs, increase tourism and if done correctly turn a respectable long term profit. Include football in the Operacion Puerto trial and all this could potentially be replaced with a serious dent to national pride.
Even this morning when Fuentes said he would name all he athletes he'd treated, the judge refused. It seems that the Spanish authorities are willing to go to serious lengths to ensure both national pride in their football teams and the associated financial benefits.
It's my opinion that a large majority of the Spanish national team used performance enhancing products during the 2010 World Cup and the 2008 and 2012 European Championships. Spain simply can't afford a doping scandal that would disgrace their prized possession; they're willing to sacrifice cycling to save football.
As always, discussion welcome.