Is doping one of football’s biggest secrets?



Is doping one of football’s biggest secrets? That’s what Gelmi Rick and Sierro Adrien from AISTS class of 2018 delve into in this episode of the AISTS Sport Medicine podcast.

You can dope in any sport, yet football has seemingly escaped the suspicion put upon other sports such as cycling. Why is this? This and more is explored in this episode.

The AISTS Sport Medicine Podcast is recorded by participants of the AISTS Master of Advanced Studies in Sport Management and Technology. It has recently been ranked as no.7 in the world’s best sport medicine podcasts. 

Rick: Doping in football has always existed. It is one of the biggest concerns of Russia, but also of FIFA. The suspicions against Russia are overwhelming and always present. But, doping sinners are no longer found in the top football leagues today, although there is scandal in almost every other sport. Does doping have no effect on football?

Adrien: Many players and coaches still believe the fairy tale of doping having no impact in football. One of the best excuses of the past was that if you cannot shoot with your left foot, you will not hit the ball even if you swallow 100 pills. It may be true, but you can definitely practice longer. Football is increasingly becoming an endurance sport, like cycling. But only cycling is under suspicion – all doped! What is your opinion?

R: The argument that doping has no effect on football is totally stupid. You can dope in any sport of course. You can also dope as a dart player and you can also dope as a team athlete. And as we noted at the Winter Olympics, you can even dope as a curler. You need force, speed, stamina, and strength in many areas, and that’s even more complex in football than in other sports.

A: And you can regenerate better and faster if you support it medically. And with today’s season plan with more and more games, this is, of course, an essential point. Or, quite pragmatically, if you want to be able to run longer or to shoot stronger, you can do it through doping.

R: We both played with many different professional football clubs and knew a lot of players. So, I believe I never got in touch with doping, but to be honest, I don’t really know, because I always trusted the club or medical department and did or took what they gave me. Have you ever encountered doping in any way?

A: I have never seen any players taking drugs. That is not to say that it doesn’t happen, but as you said, if the players got something illegal, they certainly just did not know it. The pressure within a football team is enormous. There are usually four other players who are pushing for your position. Of course, you are trying everything to make it somehow possible to play, even beyond your pain limit. I have taken painkillers a lot. What about you?

R: Yes, of course. But painkillers, like many other medicines, are legal doping. However, the question is: where is the limit? WADA dictates which drugs are doping, and which are not, and it is also very important that there is something like that. WADA says what doping is and what not.

A: A combination of, for example, nicotine and caffeine, which is very popular with ice hockey players as well as football players, and it can be just as effective as a stimulant like amphetamine, or like other drugs. However, a big dilemma is that drug combinations at the moment have no way to impose sanctions in any form. Have you heard about Actovegin?

R: Actovegin, highly filtered calf blood, Sebastian Schweinsteiger spoke only positive in the American media. A drug, normally administered in the event of a stroke or dementia. The approval has expired in many countries, the application is allowed, and the attending physician is responsible. The manufacturer of the preparation advertises increased performance, faster recovery and muscle growth.

A: But the question is if Actovegin is a drug in the medical border area. Although there are studies on a doping-relevant effect and it appears to contain traces of banned substances. However, WADA says, they have not detected any prohibited substances and therefore, Actovegin is not prohibited.

R: Another problem is that doping cases in football actually barely reach the public. Unless players such as Samir Nasri post their fit-makers on social media, which meant half a year suspension for him. And numerous studies have shown that king football is not free and that there has been doping.

A: Like the German World Champions of 1954, for example, took amphetamine pervitin in the final against Hungary. And even icons like Diego Maradona, Franz Beckenbauer, Pep Guardiola or Didier Deschamps had already been in doping cases. But there is hardly any news or relevant research today. Why is that?

R: The reason is also pretty clear: many clubs immediately wave off on the topic of doping. Following the motto: we do not want to have anything to do with doping. For “normal people” it is virtually impossible to do such a study. They do not get to the professional footballers which they actually want to interview.

A: Another important topic is the control system. Many reporters and experts criticize the system, such as just recently on German TV. A story from NDR stated that in the Bundesliga 249 controls were taken outside the matchdays, which is 0.49 samples per player. That’s crazy.

R: And in general, the number of annual tests per football player is so small that cyclists can only laugh about it. The same applies to the general conditions: home visits of doping inspectors, football players rarely have to fear. Almost all tests take place after training or the game.

A: And in almost all Olympic sports, it is standard to announce training times and locations, as well as free time, so that doping controllers can also run tests outside the competition. Of course, it is uncomfortable, but it is just part of it, especially if we all stand for a clean sport.

R: The grey area in football is bigger than you think. So, more than ever, it depends on effective doping hunters, but they cost a lot of money. However, the price of clean sports seems to be too high for many, and with regard to the World Cup in Russia, we learn that FIFA, the organizer, carries out the doping control itself.

A: Unlike in other sports where there are doping cases because they look more carefully and more intense compared to football, and because you also have much more data, football can cut itself off.
Adrien Sierro, Rick Gelmi 2

R: Football is still doing it to WADA, for example, at the World Cup in Russia. But would not WADA have to be present at the World Cup in Russia? In Russia, in the country with the largest fraud system since the DDR doping program.

A: I think, meanwhile, we have to read the world of sport in two different chapters. One is the entire Olympic sport and the other is football, which is today even more powerful than the entire Olympic Movement.

R: We do not want to shed a bad light on football or accuse anyone by name, but to enhance an ongoing discussion. Show that something has to change.


  • Faulkner, A., McNamee, M., Coveney, C., & Gabe, J. (2017). Where biomedicalization and magic meet: Therapeutic innovations of elite sports injury in British professional football and cycling. Social Science & Medicine. Volume 178. April 2017. Pages 136-143.
  • FIFA (2018). FIFA’s approach to doping in football. Retrieved from:
  • Lee, P., Kwan, A., & Nokes, L. (2011). Actovegin – Cutting-edge Sports Medicine or “Voodoo” Remedy?. Current Sports Medicine Reports. Volume 10. July 2011. Issue 4. Pages 186-190.
  • Majendie, M. (2016). Euro 2016: Doping in soccer – “The submerged part of the iceberg”. Retrieved from: soccer-euro-2016/index.html
  • Maylon, E. (2018). World Cup 2018: FIFA close doping case against Russian squad members due to “insufficient evidence”. Retrieved from: doping-russia-mcclaren-report-wada-grigory-rodchenkov-a8363716.html
  • TheGuardian (2018). Russian World Cup player recognized by doping whistleblower. Retrieved from: cup-player-recognised-doping-whistleblower
  • Tscholl, P., MD, Feddermann, N., MD, Junge, A., PhD, & Dvorak, J., MD (2008). The Use and Abuse of Painkillers in International Soccer. FIFA Medical Assessment and Research Center. Volume: 37 issue: 2, page(s): 260-265.

You can find more AISTS Sport Medicine podcasts on our Soundcloud channel or on the Apple Podcast app. To learn more about the AISTS Master of Advanced Studies in Sport Administration and Technology, visit

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