Premier League has to lead doping fight
I was in bed sick at the weekend when the 'Sunday Times' doping exposé broke and I'll confess I was immediately fatigued by the notion of another dodgy doctor with a comedy name prescribing EPO and HGH to athletes, cyclists and footballers. I felt like putting a big metaphorical tl;dr (that's too long; didn't read) over the entire scandal and hoped it'd blow over by the time I was well enough to be talking about sport again.
Here we go again, I figured, another cycle of the people in charge refusing to care, finger-wagging and blame-gaming a go-go; the usual nay-sayers pretending it doesn't matter and, oh look, it's a Champions League week. After last night's games are people still interested in reading or hearing about the fact that football is dirty?
Then David Collins, who was part of the team that broke the story, spoke to Joe Molley on the show on Monday and reminded me why all this matters. We're entitled to watch clean football, he said. He's right. We're entitled to watch clean sport. In the normal course of a functioning society people cheating at a hobby wouldn't matter, there'd be minor interest in a controversy at the World Knitting Championships or Sheep Dog Trials or Jam Tasting Jamboree but no-one would really care beyond a few people on reddit charting it for our amusement.
But when a packed stadium throbs as the best footballers in the world try and win on behalf of themselves, their clubs, or our country, it matters. We don't fully understand why but we know it to be true.
Football is the easiest sport to play. It is truly universal. The crises which have wracked football have so far left us still relatively in love with the basics of the game. Rampant drug use at the top levels is something to test the will of the most committed and loyal fans. Football is dirty because it chooses to be. It's turned a blind eye to the EPO doping crises of the 1990s and the stink around the Juventus team of Zidane, Deschamps and Antonio Conte from 1996 will never go away. The allegations around the German team go back to 1954 and the Miracle of Bern. Football hasn't cared so far but maybe that's about to stop. There is an opening for a hero.
Hopefully this is where the Premier League steps in to finally become the best league in the world. It is rich enough to be able to stop doping in football. Most sports are broke and don't have the means to properly test all their athletes all the time or investigate breaches or follow up leads. Football has money.
The Premier League has the perfect set of conditions to test every player every week, to establish biological passports and to implement a zero-tolerance approach. Football fans are entitled to it.