A study commissioned by the European Football Association Uefa shows that there could have been significantly more cases of steroid doping in European football than previously announced. It is the largest study of its kind to date: scientists from twelve European anti-doping laboratories have worked on it.
A total of 4,195 urine samples from the years 2008 to 2013 were tested. They were taken from 879 anonymous top footballers, most of whom played in the major European football competitions – above all in the Champions League and the Europa League. According to the study, 7.7 percent of the players were found to have conspicuous testosterone levels which, according to the regular doping test standards, would have to result in follow-up examinations with regard to possible doping with anabolic steroids.
What were the Results?
The results do not provide proof of doping, but they do indicate that steroids may have been more widely used in European football than previously known. Previous test procedures had shown abnormalities in only 1.3 percent of all doping samples in the Uefa’s area of responsibility. The study results now suggest that the proportion could be significantly higher. However, the scientists emphasize that there were uncertainty factors in the study, such as insufficient standardization among the laboratories, which could weaken the informative value.
The doping editorial staff of the ARD/WDR broadcasters and the British newspaper Sunday Times had the study evaluated by experts. Researcher Julien Baker from the University of the West of Scotland says: “If the results are correct, it’s very alarming. Because it would show that steroid abuse is taking place in some of Europe’s biggest competitions.” Anabolic steroids can also help improve performance in football, for example in strength and speed, and they can also help shorten recovery times.
“A comparison with other sports, such as cycling and athletics, shows that football has to think carefully about how it wants to combat them,” says Baker.
Scientists doubt reliability
The German sports scientist Perikles Simon criticises the study because he considers the statistical basis to be incomprehensible.
“It is very difficult to conclude whether the whole thing is biological or really the result of external factors. I find a rate of 7.7 percent a little too high.”
The Uefa also stresses that it is “impossible to draw final conclusions from this one study“. Nevertheless, it has now introduced an extended test system that also takes steroid profiles into account and was launched with the 2015/2016 season. It is intended to have a deterrent effect and help detect doping with anabolic steroids over a longer period of time.