Thursday 24 October 2019

Paul Kimmage: 'The cheerleaders are back, no questions asked'

‘Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson revealed he was barely able to walk after a cynical stamp from Barcelona’s Clement Lenglet early in the epic semi-final’. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
‘Liverpool skipper Jordan Henderson revealed he was barely able to walk after a cynical stamp from Barcelona’s Clement Lenglet early in the epic semi-final’. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

But in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, no sport that requires as much training, endurance and sheer athletic grit as does 21st-century professional tennis can insulate itself from the chill winds of suspicion and scepticism. So that now, when confronted with the phenomena of Rafael Nadal's unbefitting (at least for a tennis player) biceps, Federer's serenely sweatless exertions, and 54-stroke rallies (Andy Murray vs Novak Djokovic at this year's US Open final), an unease creeps into our wonder and admiration. How exactly are these guys doing this?

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Nick Sywak, Salon, November 14 2012

One of the more interesting aspects around the fall of Lance Armstrong was the ripple effect on other sports. One of his doctors, Luis del Moral, had also worked in tennis, and almost everywhere you looked at the Australian Open that year (2013) there were journalists asking questions, and players on the baseline.

Maria Sharapova: "I'm happy that our sport is as clean as it can be and that we're constantly tested. So as long as we're getting tested, whatever it takes, urine, blood, we're all here to make the sport as clean as it can be."

Novak Djokovic: "I believe tennis players are (among) the cleanest athletes in the world. So as long as we keep it that way I have no complaints about testing."

Andy Murray: "A lot has been learnt from the Lance Armstrong situation. You don't want that happening ever again. I don't want that happening for my sport. That would be terrible."

The purge had also extended to football, another sport where Del Moral had shined, and I was sent the following note by a writer at the time: "I'd love to know your thoughts or to at some point pick your brain on this . . . Soccer is the sport I grew up with and love but I don't want to celebrate anything that's dishonest or wrong and, as with finance, the sport in general seems to have a blind spot as regards doping."

A month later he sent another:

"This is really beginning to get at me. Cycling was obviously riddled, but there's growing evidence that suggests it was only one strand of a doping conspiracy that includes football. The two MUST have been side by side . . . but one sport started to get real, one is in utter denial. As Lance himself would say, 'pas normal'."

Indeed. But that's all forgotten now.

Cheerleading has become fashionable again. If we had a penny for every writer who was misty-eyed at Augusta, or took to Twitter last week weeping unconditional joy for Liverpool and Spurs, we could pay Paul Pogba. And the analysts, sweet Jesus! Gary Lineker and Rio Ferdinand and their hysterics at the Nou Camp . . . John Aldridge and Jamie Carragher and their hysterics at Anfield . . . Brian Kerr and Keith Andrews and their hysterics on Spurs . . .

Do your job, lads.

Leave the hysteria to the fans.

They might start by asking some questions of Liverpool and the heroics attributed to the captain, Jordan Henderson, on Thursday in The Times and The Star and this, from The Mirror:

"Jordan Henderson has provided a unique insight into the belief and commitment which miraculously swept Liverpool into the Champions League final. Liverpool skipper Henderson (below, in agony) revealed he was barely able to walk after a cynical stamp from Barcelona's Clement Lenglet early in the epic semi-final.

"At half-time, there were real fears he would not be able to continue, but the midfielder explained that nothing was going to deny him the best night of his life. 'I was struggling when I got a whack on the knee, it was dead,' he said. 'The doctor said just keep it moving. I managed to get to half-time and I had some treatment, painkillers, all that stuff, which helped.'

"His description is matter-of-fact. But, when pressed, Henderson's answer showed the warrior spirit which allowed his side to deliver the greatest night in Anfield history. 'There was a jab and tablets. Both. Everything. I said just give us everything,' he said, with a broad smile."

Imagine a pro cyclist said that.

But let's not go there. No, let's digest the 'warrior spirit' for a moment and try to figure this out. We know that there were 518 samples collected at the Champions League last season, and presume the UEFA testers were at Anfield on Tuesday. We know the medical staff at Liverpool are gifted and diligent and would never cross an ethical line. And there's a chance, just a chance, the boy Jordy was gilding the lily.

It was, after all, the greatest game ever seen at Anfield. He had, after all, just captained the side and played brilliantly. He was, after all, absolutely buzzing and the writers could not get enough. But it was still worth some questions that should have been asked:

Were you tested after the game, Jordan?

How many times have you been tested this year?

How many times have you been jabbed?

What were the tablets?

What were the jabs?

Did you know?

Do you ask?

Do the doctors ever talk about their duty of care?

In his book, Full Time, Tony Cascarino tells a story about the build-up to a UEFA Cup game at Marseilles in 1994 and being ordered to the team hotel one Sunday afternoon. "Tapie (the team owner, Bernard Tapie) had summoned his personal physician from Paris, and after dinner we lined up in one of the rooms and rolled up our sleeves for a 'booster' injection. I hadn't a clue what exactly the boost was and didn't feel inclined to ask.

"Most of the players were having them and it seemed easier to join the herd than cause a fuss. The boosters weren't the only injections at the club. Before games we were offered shots - 20 tiny pin-pricks, injected into the lower back by what looked like a stapling gun. Never having seen it in any dressing room in England, I asked one of the physios what it was and if it was legal. 'Of course it's legal,' he replied. And then he smiled. 'And anyway, our doctor does all the tests at the club.' I decided to give it a go and maybe the effect was purely psychological but it definitely made a difference: I felt sharper, more energetic, hungrier for the ball.

"One night, aware my lower back was starting to look like a dart board, I declined the injection before a game. Noting my reservations, Tapie brushed me aside, pulled up his shirt and blasted himself in the back. But I don't know to this day what it was."

Has anything really changed in football since '94? Well, they're WADA compliant of course these days, and they'll remind you, if you ask, that there were no positive tests in the World Cup last year, or in the Champions or Europa Leagues. But let's be honest, you won't ask, because you don't want to know. And they know you don't want to know. You'd prefer to listen to Lineker and the boys singing in the press box.

Sorry Lance.

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