I haven't been able to do anything recently (twitter, TV, Facebook, spelunking) without being beat over the head (ouch!) with the news of Alex Rodriguez and the latest steroid scandal.
But it made me think: Why aren't steroids/performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) an issue in soccer?
Most Americans, I'm pretty sure about this, tend to equate PEDs with the hulking, Paul Bunyan-esque sluggers. But keep in mind the sports most synonymous with doping are track and field and cycling. Those are sports that require stamina, endurance, and often sudden changes in acceleration. In other words, a lot like soccer.
Soccer, being the dynamic and fluid sport that it is, requires players to be both strong and quick and have incredible reflexes. A player who can bounce back strong between games is certainly a better asset than the player who recovers at a slower pace.
Let's look at goalkeepers. They have to be a strong, powerful force in the box, able to throw their bodies into opposing players. How many times have you seen a keeper make an amazing dive, laying themselves completely out into the turf? Goalkeepers don't log the miles other players do, but even their bodies takes a beating each contest.
It's not unprecedented in the sport as we are now learning that steroids may have propelled the success of West Germany. In 2011, five North Korean women's players tested positive causing FIFA president Sepp Blatter to say, "This is a shock ... We are confronted with a very, very bad case of doping and it hurts."
As we are so accustomed to, there's no acceptance or remorse. We get the old shtick "Oh no! We didn't dope! It was .." And indeed, this one was pure gold:
North Korea officials blamed traditional musk deer gland medicine
To the North Koreans' credit, I googled but could find no news of any deer attacks during 2011 Women's World Cup.
You may have heard about Mexican soccer players testing positive for clenbuterol. The two players were never officially identified (though one was widely reported to be Mexican National Team starting goalkeeper Jesus Corona) and were later exonerated on the account of "meat contamination".
This same article posits some very intriguing facts:
In 2011, five members of the Mexican national team tested positive for clenbuterol, also blamed on contaminated meat, at a training camp held shortly before the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
None of the five were allowed to take part in the tournament although they were later cleared of any doping offence.
More than 100 players tested positive for the substance during the Under-17 World Cup held in Mexico in June-July the same year.
They were also acquitted of any wrongdoing after FIFA, soccer's governing body, said they were victims of a health problem in the country.
Clenbuterol is a banned substance in the Olympics, by the World Anti-Doping Agency and in MLB among others. This is a tangent but here is a sampling of other sports and their policies regarding clenbuterol:
MLB: In 2006, San Francisco Giants pitcher Guillermo Mota, while a member of the New York Mets, received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for clenbuterol. In 2012, MLB officials announced they were again suspending Mota for 100 games due a positive test for clenbuterol.
Boxing: In 2013, Mexican boxer Erik Morales was suspended for two years after testing positive for clenbuterol.
The "contaminated meat" story didn't help two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador. He served a two-year ban for testing positive for clenbuterol during the 2010 race, despite claiming he also ate contaminated meat.
But what about Major League Soccer?
Are performance enhancing drugs even banned in MLS? What sort of drug testing, if any is happening?
In 2008, two Red Bull players, Jon Conway and Jeff Parke, did test positive and were suspended by the league, "for violating the MLS substance abuse and behavioral health policy." The players took dietary supplements which contained banned substances.
Of course that was five years ago. What is the language that's in effect for 2013? After doing a cursory look through the MLS 2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) there is a clause stating:
MLS may add substances to the list of those prohibited by the SABH, and may adopt procedures to test for such substances, so long as such substances and procedures have been adopted by the United States Anti-Doping Agency or FIFA."
If I interpret this correctly, if a drug is banned by one of the aforementioned organizations, the league may ban it. But they might not! The league may test for drugs ... then again it may not. Who can say?
Regarding drugs and banned substances, the CBA makes reference to a page called "Exhibit 5".
For me it was just a blank page (see above).
I'm sure there's probably a reason for this, but I don't know what it is.
This is really an open ended question. I'm reasonably sure that there is no doping problem to speak of in MLS. For one thing MLS players are probably some of the most educated major league athletes in the U.S. Obviously, they are well aware of the health repercussions of PEDs.
Not to mention, they've seen the cloud doping has put over sports. No one can mount a bike at the Tour De France without allegations over doping. Meanwhile we're about at the decade mark where any and every accomplishment on the baseball diamond inevitably smacks of doping allegations.
Is there doping in MLS? I see no reason to believe it exists. But to confirm that? Still unclear. To answer this, The Goat Parade reached out to the league but we did not receive a response. We did speak to a Chivas USA official, who confirmed that drug testing does take place, but did not receive further details.
The Timbers Army raised a tifo at a recent game stating "MLS: Transparency = Legitimacy." I hate having to slag the league. I love soccer and I love having it in my backyard. But the Timbers Army have a great point: if MLS wants to be this super league in the next ten years, they are going to have to pull back the curtain, including when it comes to drugs and drug testing.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!