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by | 19th, October 2005

‘“ABEL Xavier, the Middlesbrough defender, will protest his innocence after testing positive for a banned substance,” says the Times.

A shock for Xavier

Nothing extraordinary in that: we have long since stopped expecting a sports man or woman to say that the system has got them. They’re bang to rights. It’s a fair cop, guv’nor?

And it’s only proper they don’t. It’s Xavier’s right to defend his corner. The Portuguese international might well have tested positive for a banned substance after a Uefa Cup match against Xanthi on 29 September, but that doesn’t mean he’s guilty of cheating. In any case, it’s not him that’s wrong – it’s the system.

Xavier, memorable for his shock of dyed blonde hair and for spinning the ball on his finger while seated on the bench at Euro 2000, is now becoming well known for something else – he’s an, alleged, drugs cheat.

And if found guilty – he’s waiting on the results of a second test on his urine sample – Xavier would be the first player in English football to have tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Not a first Xavier can be proud of, but nonetheless a first – handled rightly it could make him a celebrity and, who knows, perhaps earn him a spot on Superstars or Celebrity Rehab.

The substance for which the Portuguese player tested positive is not known. But he says that whatever it was it came from a food supplement he was taking to combat a virus.

‘I am convinced that there is a reasonable and entirely harmless explanation for such a positive finding, should it be confirmed by the analysis of the B-sample,” says Xavier in a statement.

He’s innocent. Although it does sound odd that a professional athlete didn’t first read the list of ingredients on the side of the packet and then check them alongside a list of banned substances before consuming the brew, or just have handed over the stuff to the club’s doctor and asked for his expert opinion.

But mistakes are easy enough to make – and hard to defend. The Fifa rule books states that “it is each player’s personal duty to ensure that no prohibited substance enters the body… It is not necessary that intent, fault, negligence or conscious use on the player’s part be demonstrated in order to establish an anti-doping violation.”

That’s all very clear. It doesn’t matter how it got there, but if you’re caught with a banned substance in your system, you will be banned from the game.

Jaap Stam protested his innocence after testing positive for nadrolone in 2001. Playing for Lazio at the time, he received a three-month ban.

Adrian Mutu may well have taken cocaine to boost his sexual prowess, but a positive test is just that and a seven-month ban followed.

“One (positive test) can be one too many,’ says Gordon Taylor, head of the England players’ union. “We’ve got an image to protect and an image for youngsters coming into the game.’

Quite so. Zero tolerance of drug-users is the only way. The image of the game is everything. God forbid that the image gets rubbed away and football is made to look sordid and damaged.

God forbid that we start to wonder why a professional footballer feels the need to turn to drugs. God forbid we wonder how many cheats get away with it and are not caught. God forbid we stop buying into the dream.

So former Manchester United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, who tested positive for cocaine in 2003, is given a nine-month suspension from the game (he’s not played since). And Rio Ferdinand is given an eight-month ban for failing to provide a sample.

And the image of the game as something pure and untainted is maintained – until the next time…’

Posted: 19th, October 2005 | In: Back pages Comment | TrackBack | Permalink