Dr Paul Wright: Life ban for drug cheats
The news that Liverpool footballer Mamadou Sakho has tested positive for a banned substance comes as a shock to football lovers, and indeed, fans of sport around the world.
Sakho tested positive after a Europa League match in which he played the full 90 minutes against Manchester United, helping his side to earn a draw, thus qualifying them for the next round.
The banned substance has not been officially released, but information suggests that it is a 'fat burner' similar to the drug used by his friend and teammate Kolo Toure, who tested positive in 2011 and received a six-month ban.
While Sakho is not banned by the administrative body controlling the Europa League (UEFA), he has been provisionally banned by his club, who now awaits the B sample result and the mandatory investigation.
This blot on the integrity of sports is another in the spate of positives from icons in a variety of sports.
In December last year, Pakistani leg spinner Yasir Shah tested positive for a banned substance (a diuretic and masking agent) after playing in a one-day international (ODI) against England in Abu Dhabi.
Maria Sharapova, a tennis superstar, has admitted to using the banned drug Melindronate (Meldonium) "for years". And the list seems to be endless.
Everybody is looking for an edge. Elite athletes seem to be especially vulnerable to "expert" advice from confidants and medical acquaintances who promise a "boost" that is necessary to compete consistently at the highest level.
It seems as if the standard advice from anti-doping agencies that you don't need dope to cope is falling on deaf ears. The lure of these supplements seems to lie in the promise of "extra energy", not weight loss as the name suggests.
They work by increasing your heart rate and metabolism so that you feel less tired, and in the case of an elite footballer, these drugs allow you to play at a high level of output for 90 minutes.
However, taken as supplements, these substances can have devastating effects. DMMA, (DimethoxyNmethylamphetamine and methylhexanamine) have been implicated in the death of a marathon runner in the 2012 London Marathon.
I have noticed the spirited attempt at defending athletes who bought a supplement that supposedly guaranteed them faster sprint times but was found to contain methylhexanamine.
These athletes were appropriately sanctioned, mainly in the hope of sending a message that would resonate in the local athletic community. One athlete, unfortunately, never competed again, but if memory serves me right, none of the other athletes affected in that sordid episode tested positive again. Message learnt!
Sport fans around the world are very wary of some of the astounding performances that we see from time to time.
Drug testers are under keen scrutiny as laboratories are being accused of reporting negative results on samples that contain banned substances, while one lab simply threw away the samples.
Administrators, doctors, doping control officers, and chemists have all been named and implicated in protecting cheaters. But the fight for clean sport continues.
Money seems to be the driving force in the continued effort to win at all costs. I do believe, however, that once anti-doping agencies are given the requisite funding and an appointment to these positions is no longer in the hands of politicians, the fight can be won.
Clean sport is possible. Those who are caught cheating have no business in sports. Life bans, after investigation and hearings, must be the new international order.