How FIFA conducts doping tests at the World Cup

Ein Verantwortlicher der Dopingkontrollen bei der WM in Russland


How FIFA conducts doping tests at the World Cup

Von Hajo Seppelt and Jost Samson

Football is celebrated – and is celebrating itself once again. At the World Cup in Russia, the world‘s most popular sport is shining in all its glory. But the world football federation FIFA does not allow anyone to peek behind the curtains when it comes to doping control. Testing, transport, sample analysis – FIFA do everything themselves.

While there have been so-called "independent observers" from the World-Anti-Doping-Agency on location during previous world cups, in Russia, FIFA is letting no one have a look behind the scenes. There is neither supervision by external nor independent experts.

Criticism towards this practice is becoming increasingly louder as demonstrated by the former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Richard Pound. "What it tells me is that football has not changed it‘s approach to doping. Which is essentially denial. And there is no willingness to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that football is clean as possible", says Pound.  

Many experts doubt that football is as clean as is often claimed by the business itself. Would there be more dopers caught, if one would just look more closely? According to WADA‘s most recent statistic from 2016, 79 doping cases in football have been uncovered – reliable figures, confirming that there is indeed chemical manipulation in football.

Insider warns: not enough testing

The business of banned substances used to be Angel Heredia‘s forte. He sold doping drugs to track and field-athletes before becoming the US judiciary‘s chief witness against some of them. Today he is an outspoken critic of doping. But Heredia still has insight into the world of sports that extends to the global football business.

He warns that in football "there‘s a lot of drugs, such as EPO." Heredia claims, that there are many ways in which footballers dope – and often with the help of support staff. "The question is", says Heredia, "is FIFA doing enough testing?" The former doping dealer thinks, that FIFA is aware of "the magnitude of doping" in football. If testing was increased "there would be a lot of embarassments. Nobody wants that."

In fact, there is no complete testing of footballer's doping samples. This is clearly shown in the most recent WADA testing statistics and guidelines on the specifics of sample analysis. According to the document,comprehensive testing on highly effective doping substances is not obligatory in football as well as in many other sports.

Andrea Gotzmann, Chairwoman of the Germany‘s National Anti-Doping Agency NADA, explains, that "In cycling about 60 percent of all samples are tested for EPO. Also in biathlon, cross-country skiing and endurance disciplines in track and field. In football it is only ten percent."

Significantly more tests according to FIFA

In response to an ARD inquiry FIFA has now declared that – when it comes to doping testing during the Football World Cup in Russia – it not only adheres to WADA‘s minimal standards, but instead this time it tests all samples for growth hormone and peptides. Furthermore, significantly more than ten percent of all samples are tested for EPO. Exactly how many though, FIFA does not disclose.

FIFA does not play with open cards when it comes to doping. Requests for filming are rejected, questions on the subject of doping receive only vague answers. And all this in a host country with a very special past. Critics bemoan this, particularly in view of the fact that the host country still does not have a WADA-accredited control laboratory following the Russian doping scandal.

Berlinger, the Swiss manufacturer of doping sample bottles, instead shows it is open to questions. ARD research revealed in January, that the company‘s sample bottles can be tampered with and even copied. Berlinger has faced severe criticism since. The sample containers for the football World Cup in Russia have since been improved significantly, the company‘s spokesman Hans Klaus says.

"We introduced additional security features this winter. Unfortunately we can‘t talk about it. Otherwise they wouldn‘t be security features anymore. But the bottle that is now in use has been improved especially so that it is especially safe from counterfeiting." Klaus also says, that exactly these bottles are now used at the Football World Cup.

An airlift for doping samples

Doping testing during the Football World Cup is an enormous logistical task. Not only because of the sheer distance between locations in the biggest country of the world, but also because all samples have to be transported safely to Switzerland where they are analysed in the control laboratory in Lausanne. All doping samples taken at the Football World Cup – be it blood or urine – will be analysed in Switzerland because of the ongoing suspension of Russia‘s doping control laboratory following the host country‘s doping scandal. This airlift for doping samples will certainly produce enormous additional costs for FIFA.

Stand: 11.07.2018, 16:29