Toure’s ban highlights confusing drugs-related punishment procedure

Jamie Butler, the Manchester City doctor alleged to have authorised Kolo Toure taking diet pills, has been cleared of all blame related to the Ivory Coast defender’s failed drugs test last March. Toure originally claimed that Butler sanctioned the supplements he borrowed from his wife in an attempt to lose weight, but will now have to wait until September 2nd until he can feature again for City having been banned for a total of six months by the Football Association.

Unfortunately, the former captain at Eastlands was absent for the team’s first cup triumph in 35 years when his brother, Yaya, converted the only goal in City’s 1-0 win against Stoke in last month’s FA Cup Final. “Before I signed for City I told Kolo I wanted to come to England to play with him and win something together,” said Yaya before the Wembley showpiece. “That won’t happen on Saturday, and that means it will be a hard moment for him, and for me as well.”

The public response to Toure’s misdemeanor was initially empathetic, but a deeper inspection of the player’s intent suggests that he was looking to gain an advantage over his Premiership compatriots by attempting to lose weight in a purportedly unnatural fashion. The extent of his punishment is arguably proportionate to the committed crime, but taking a glance at recent cases of substance abuse in football illustrates a confusing and unpredictable process for punishing those guilty of failing drugs tests.

In the summer of 2001, Holland midfielder Edgar Davids tested positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone, and was subsequently handed an eight-month suspension from all football by the Italian Olympic Committee. Following appeal, Davids, who was playing for Juventus at the time, was awarded a reduced sentence and served just under four months. By the time Davids was reaching the final few weeks of his punishment, his Dutch team-mate, Jaap Stam, had too tested positive for nandrolone and received a five-month ban with a 50,000Euros fine.

The procedures which dictate the severity of a footballer’s punishment related to substance abuse remain bewilderingly unclear, especially seeing as nandrolone has been proved to aid recovery, increase muscle size and strength, increase aggression and competitiveness and allow an athlete to train for longer and at a higher intensity. Having been proved guilty of having an alarmingly high level of nandrolone in his body, Davids served under half the length of Rio Ferdinand’s suspension for simply not attending a drugs test which when completed just 24 hours later resulted in a negative verdict. The Manchester United defender suffered further punishment having fulfilled his ban during England’s unsuccessful Euro 2004 campaign, and had every reason to feel unjustly treated based on previous drugs related instances within the sport.

This curious method extends to those prohibited medicines which do anything but enhance performance in athletes, in that Claudio Cannigia was banned for 13 months in 1993 for testing positive for cocaine, Mark Bosnich was suspended for nine months in 2003 for the same offence, and another former Chelsea employee, Adrian Mutu, was excluded from football for seven months in 2004 for an identical felony. No matter that each of the above punishments differ having been administered for the same crime, nor that in each instance the player involved was exploited as an example to prevent the promotion of a drug that is illegal in most countries, but the fact that an athlete can play for a longer amount of time whilst consuming substances which directly affect their ability to perform than he is suspended from playing for having taken them in the first place.

Until a rigid set of regulations are conceived which clearly describe the punishments for each type of banned substance, then it is likely that drug taking within football will continue, both consciously and unconsciously. But then again, why would we care? After all, the world’s greatest player took growth hormone tablets for four years in order to reach a height of 5ft 6inches, after doctors stated that Lionel Messi would only stand at 4ft 7inches otherwise. Whilst his talent remains devoid of scrutiny, no-one could argue that the Argentine would be the talent he is today without having been assisted by medicinal supplements, yet Toure enters the summer months apparently overweight and haunted by the thought that anabolic steroids may have been a more sensible option than Slim-Fast.

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