Tom English: Dope claims cast shadow over Barcelona
WHETHER IT’S Messi or Xavi or Iniesta or any number of their other go-to men, Barcelona nearly always find the right answer to whatever question is asked of them. On the field, that is. Not off it, though. Not all the time.
In the world of doping certain sports come under the spotlight and certain ones escape attention. Cycling is forever on the radar and rightly so. Despite there being anecdotal evidence to warrant greater investigation, football is rarely targeted in the hunt for those who use, or have used, performance-enhancing drugs. More than one doctor found guilty of instigating doping programmes in cycling has spoken casually of the kinds of things that go on in football. One of these guys, allegedly, is Luis del Moral, now banned for life from having any involvement in sport governed by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Del Moral once told Tyler Hamilton that the use of performance-enhancing drugs in football was even greater than in cycling, an extraordinary claim if even a quarter true. Hamilton, the former bike rider and one-time team-mate of the now disgraced Lance Armstrong, used to work with Del Moral at the US Postal Team. Or to describe their relationship more accurately, let’s turn to the pages of Hamilton’s recently published autobiography, The Secret Race, in which he catalogues his own doping and the untrammelled use of EPO, blood transfusions and other methods of cheating in professional cycling.
“He [Del Moral] tied a blue elastic band below my biceps, set an empty transfusion bag on a white towel on the floor next to the bed, and wiped the inside of my elbow with an alcohol swab. Then the needle. I’d seen a lot of needles, but this one was huge – about the size and shape of a coffee stirrer. It was attached to a syringe that was in turn attached to clear tubing that led to the waiting bag, with a small white thumbwheel to control flow. I looked away; felt the needle go in. When I looked again, my blood was pumping steadily into the bag on the floor.”
In his years as a mastermind of doping, Del Moral was called The Little Devil by the riders in Postal, or El Gato Negro (The Black Cat). He was, says Hamilton, “a humourless, overcaffeinated man from Valencia”. It’s suggested now that Del Moral had a connection with Barcelona. On the official website of the medical centre where Del Moral is based as well as on the website of a company called Performa Sport Consultancy it is claimed on Del Moral’s list of experience that he worked with Barcelona as a “medical adviser”.
If Del Moral really did work with Barcelona then the football authorities should be asking some tough questions right now about what he did, if anything, and when he did it, who he did it to and how. It is believed that any connection may revolve around the 2003-04 season but with Del Moral unwilling to talk there is mystery here.
Barcelona’s response has not been impressive. They say that Del Moral was never on the staff payroll but they couldn’t promise that he never had any involvement with the medical team at Barca or with any of the players as individuals. What happened, or didn’t happen, they say, is in the past. The club has an entire new medical operation now. Barcelona have not replied to requests for details of their former employees on the medical side. It should be added that Del Moral also appears to be claiming a connection with Valencia but, as yet, Valencia have not been prepared to make any response whatsoever.
Barca ought to be launching an investigation at the moment. If one of world sport’s most infamous doping doctors is claiming a connection with their club, would it not be in their interests to get to the bottom of what involvement he may have had? Is Del Moral merely lying or is there substance to the claim?
To be clear about the background of the man, this is a list of offences that got him banned for life. 1. Possession of prohibited substances and/or methods including EPO, blood transfusions and related equipment, testosterone, hGH, corticosteroids, and masking agents. 2. Trafficking of EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, hGH, corticosteroids and masking agents. 3. Administration and/or attempted administration of EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, hGH, corticosteroids, and masking agents. 4. Assisting, encouraging, aiding, abetting, covering up and other complicity involving one or more anti-doping rule violations and/or attempted anti-doping rule violations.
Barcelona’s ‘we know nothing’ response doesn’t cut it. Let them investigate before they come to a conclusion.
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