SWC: players tested for doping

FIFA will be testing eight players from each of the 32 teams during out-of-competition controls ahead of the World Cup.

By the time the cup is held aloft on July 11, the total of tests should stand at 512, and medical chief Michel D'Hooghe is confident he can oversee a clean World Cup.

D'Hooghe said Wednesday that on top of those 256 pre-tournament checks, the same number of urine and blood tests will be conducted during the tournament itself.

Two players from each team will be selected for tests after each of the 64 matches. D'Hooghe said the 512 tests overall represent "an impressive total".

Free of doping scandals
The World Cup has been relatively free of doping scandals. The only big exception was the 1994 World Cup, when Argentina forward Diego Maradona was kicked out of the tournament for using a cocktail of banned substances.

"It was one of my toughest moments," D'Hooghe said of the decision to expel Maradona.

The former playmaker will be back as coach for Argentina, which has already subscribed to FIFA's memorandum for a doping-free tournament.

Even though football occasionally gets mentioned in drug scandals in Italy or Spain, D'Hooghe is convinced there is no doping culture among the world's 260 million football players. He said that of the 35,000 doping controls annually, only 0.3% test positive. And even in that case, the overwhelming majority are for social drugs like marijuana and cocaine.

"We had only nine anabolic steroids cases" last year, he said in an interview with The Associated Press in his medical cabinet.

Samples at the World Cup will be tested at the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab in Bloemfontein.

Pressure on  players

Players are currently exposed to an ever increasing regimen of games, played at an ever more furious pace compared to a generation ago, but D'Hooghe said that the improvement in injury prevention and medical care have partly offset the impact of that.

He also expects the altitude at which some of the games are played will have only a marginal impact.

"We don't go much higher than 1,600m, so a team which prepares itself a little bit will have a training camp at altitude," he said. The European Alps, for example, have many of the World Cup teams currently sniffing high altitude air to get used to the conditions.

"If you play at 1,600 and you have done nothing in altitude training, then you have a problem," he said.

The last time it really was an issue was at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when some grounds were as high as 2,700 meters. "This time around, it is a minor issue," he said.

Among the nine host cities during the World Cup, Soccer City in Johannesburg stands at 1,694 meters. The beach-side Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban is at only 8m.

Other stadiums higher than 1,000 meters include Bloemfontein at 1,351, Pretoria at 1,330, Polokwane at 1,230 and Rustenburg at 1,153. Apart from Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth are also coastal. - (RAF CASERT/Sapa, May 2010)

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