Football has today been hit by a massive scandal thanks to hackers known as the Fancy Bears. The Fancy Bears hackers were previously condemned for hacking the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA). Now, they’ve unleashed a football-related thunderstorm.
The mischievous (allegedly Russian) hackers are back. This time, they’re spreading information about some of the world’s top footballers. In two damning sentences, the hackers revealed that they intend to prove that doping is happening within the English Premiership, plunging the world’s most renowned sport into uncertainty.
“Football players and officials unanimously affirm that this kind of sport is free of doping.
“Our team perceived these numerous claims as a challenge and now we will prove they are lying.”
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On a Mission
Ever since Russian athletes, including some of the Paralympic team, were banned from competing at the Rio Olympics last year, Fancy Bears have been on a mission to expose other nations’ doping secrets.
The vigilante hackers have a got a real bee in their collective bonnet. Why? Because it is their impression that Russia has been unfairly singled out for doping, when, in fact, it is common place in many sports and nations. The hackers have already dropped a number of bombshells since they started hacking people and organizations in search of evidence.
Now, the pro-Russian hackers have decided to hit Britain’s most beloved sport. As is always the case with Fancy Bears, the emphasis is on exposing the drug habits of nations other than Russia.
As such, it seems likely that this latest explosive leak is in direct retaliation for an investigation already launched by FIFA. That investigation, which is currently underway, concerns Russian football doping allegations uncovered by the Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren. McLaren’s work allegedly reveals in excess of 34 cases, which are in the process of being scrutinized. In fact, Russia’s entire 2014 World Cup squad is said to be facing a FIFA doping investigation.
Blown Wide Open
Fancy Bears’ leaks reveal that, despite reassurances, football’s reputation may be under threat not only from the doping scandal itself but from an active, ongoing effort to keep that doping under wraps. The troubling leaks point the finger directly at nine footballers (unnamed) who play in the Premiership. In addition, they shed light on the failed drugs tests of around 160 footballers during 2015.
As is the case with past revelations from Fancy Bears, the new leaks demonstrate that athletes – including five players on the Argentinian national team during the 2010 World Cup – had to receive a therapeutic use exemption (TUE) in order to be able to compete. TUEs are often handed legitimately to athletes who genuinely require some form of medication.
However, Fancy Bears believe that in some cases TUEs may have been granted to athletes who did not genuinely require them, thus giving them an unfair advantage when competing.
According to the leaks, the five Argentinian players who required TUEs were Carlos Tevez, Diego Milito, Juan Sebastian Veron, Gabriel Heinze, and Walter Samuel. It is worth noting that there is no evidence yet that those TUEs weren’t legitimate. However, the fact that five players on the squad all needed a TUE certainly does raise an eyebrow.
One thing is for sure though: if whatever the footballers took was supposed to make them play better, it didn’t work. The team was beaten 4-0 by Germany, despite their TUE exemptions. However, four German players are also named as having TUEs. Perhaps they worked better for them?
What about the Premiership?
The evidence released by the Fancy Bears hackers involves some football stars who play for the Premiership. However, it would appear that those footballers have mainly been caught out for taking recreational drugs. Among those that are named by Fancy Bears are Jose Baxter, who took ecstasy while playing for Sheffield United, and Jake Livermore (then of Hull City) and Aaron McCarey (then of Wolverhampton Wanderers), who both indulged in cocaine.
A fourth player, Alan Judge, who plays for Brentford, used an inhaler containing an asthma drug called salbutamol, which is a controlled substance within sports (requiring a TUE). Judge received a warning but was not handed a ban, presumably because he really does suffer from asthma.
In addition, leaked emails sent by FA head of integrity Jenni Kennedy to FIFA’s head of medical and anti-doping, Alexis Weber, reveal that George Friend from Middlesbrough used triamcinolone, a drug that is known to help athletes lose weight quickly. In that case, the player was not found guilty by UK anti-doping authorities, because he was able to demonstrate that he had received a legitimate medical dispensation to take the corticosteroid. With specific cases like that, it is perhaps unsurprising that the Fancy Bears hackers are once again making a fuss.
In another case, two players from the team North Ferriby United (National League North) were found to have been using Oxandrolone an anabolic-androgenic steroid. Those players, however, did receive a suspension by the FA. Both face possible further repercussions.
Perhaps the most startling revelation to have come out of the leak is the fact that 27 Mexican players were found to be using the anabolic steroid clenbuterol during the 2015 season. In addition, 12 positive drug tests among Brazilian footballers are revealed in the leak, though it does not appear to relate to any of the players in the Brazilian national team.
No Standout Cases
Despite famous names like the Dutch footballer Dirk Kuyt also being named in the leaks (for having a TUE), over all there isn’t any one case that stands out as being particularly damning. However, there is no doubt that the latest sports doping leaks will force football into the spotlight, as it has with other sports where Fancy Bears has got involved. The global nature of the doping reports certainly demonstrates that controlled substances are an issue for football.
Considering the sums of money involved in football around the world, it is perhaps unsurprising that some would seek to cheat. The question is: Is enough being done to stop the problem? And are players and teams being punished harshly enough to deter footballers from taking illegal risks?
WADA, as it has in the past, has issued a statement condemning Fancy Bear’s actions:
“This criminal activity, which seeks to undermine the TUE program and the work of WADA and its partners in the protection of clean sport, is a clear violation of athletes’ rights.”
FIFA has also condemned the Fancy Bears leaks:
“The release of such information constitutes a clear violation of the athletes’ privacy and puts at risk the ongoing fight against doping.”
Opinions are the writer’s own.
Title image credit: Fancy Bears home page.
Image credits: AGIF/Shutterstock.com, Kostas Koutsaftikis/Shutterstock.com