Doping scandals are probably about as old as organized sports. While some disciplines like cycling and athletics have had their turn in the headlines in recent years, football has largely skated by unscathed. There had been some rumblings in La Liga and the Serie A (including a certain Antonio Conte, during his playing days), but they've been largely swept under the carpet regardless of how close to the truth they may be.
For what it's worth, my personal feelings on any doping issues in professional sports run along the lines of, well, everybody does it, so whatever. The risk is theirs, not mine; I don't really care. But I understand why this is a huge issue.
"The fact that some of my patients happen to be professional athletes is irrelevant. If they have proven deficiencies on blood work and are symptomatic, I will treat them. They are fully aware of the risks of using these medicines in professional sport and it is their responsibility to comply with anti-doping regulations."
-Dr. Mark Bonar; source: Sunday Times
Today, the Sunday Times is trying to kickstart a doping controversy for the Premier League, by publishing a story based wholly on the word of a certain Dr. Mark S Bonar. Bonar describes himself as a 'Concierge Doctor' (i.e. mobile care, on-demand care, tele-health) and is apparently under investigation for malpractice in the care of a cancer patient last year, but beyond that, he claims that "he has treated more than 150 sports people from the UK and abroad variously with banned substances such as erythropoietin (EPO), steroids and human growth hormone..."
His clients apparently included cyclists, tennis players, a boxing champion, a cricketer, two Strictly Come Dancing contestants, and football players from Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester City, and Birmingham City. The Chelsea connection perhaps stronger than the others thanks to our former fitness coach, Rob Brinded, who worked at Chelsea from 2001-2007.
As part of the service Bonar was offering to the undercover reporters, he introduced them to Rob Brinded, a former fitness coach at Chelsea football club. Bonar said the pair had "collaborated on a lot of clients". He added: "We are a great team."
Brinded revealed to the reporters that he had been told that a number of Chelsea players were taking banned sports drugs during his time at the club between 2001 and 2007. Yesterday his lawyer claimed that there must have been a "misunderstanding" and he denied saying that any Chelsea players were ever taking banned drugs.
He said he had recently suggested a first team player from a Premier League club contact Bonar in order to undergo a course of steroid treatment. "I know he's [Bonar] worked with a lot of footballers," Brinded said.
Brinded said he would not take part in the doping himself and that would all be dealt with by Bonar. There is no evidence that the players Bonar claims to have treated were referred to him by Brinded, who denies referring any sports clients to Bonar.
-source: Sunday Times
The bit about no evidence permeates the whole "investigation", and while the headlines and the implications are certainly sensationalist, right now, there's very little actual substance to it.
Bonar claims he has treated Arsenal, Chelsea, Leicester City and Birmingham City players. Despite Bonar's claims, The Sunday Times has no independent evidence Bonar treated the players. There is no evidence the clubs were aware of Bonar's relationship with any players or drug use by them.
-source: Sunday Times
The allegations brought forward by this report will supposedly be acted on by investigators from the UK Anti-Doping agency (Ukad) and the General Medical Council (GMC). Dr. Bonar appears to be a mostly known quantity to both Ukad and GMC, according to the Sunday Times' report, but neither have truly acted in any sort of fashion against him (or his supposed clients) yet.
Unsurprisingly, with basically this whole report based on unsubstantiated "evidence", the four clubs in question have issued strong statements of denial.
It said: "The claims are false and entirely without foundation. Chelsea football club has never used the services of Bonar and has no knowledge or record of any of our players having been treated by him or having used his services. We take the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in sport extremely seriously and comply fully with all anti-doping rules and regulations. Chelsea FC players are regularly and rigorously tested by the relevant authorities."
It said the claims were baseless. A spokesman said it took its responsibilities in this area very seriously. "Our players are well aware of what is expected. We strictly adhere to all guidelines set by the World Anti-Doping Agency and our first team players participate in approximately 50 random drugs tests during each football season. None of our players has ever failed such a test."
Leicester City said its players were barred from taking any drugs without the prior authority of the club. Any use of prohibited substances, it added, could result in the termination of a player's contract.
The club said it needed more information in order to respond to the allegations. It added its policies mirrored the Football Association's.
-source: Sunday Times
The report stops short of mentioning any players by name, revealing only that "a few" players form each club had received treatments and steroid cocktails, "including players who are well known to fans".
Whether anything concrete will actually come of this remains to be seen of course. Neither Bonar nor Brinded appear to be solid ironclad sources of evidence and acting on unsubstantiated claims will do no one any good. As Cesc Fàbregas recently revealed on Snapchat, footballers are subject to random, inconveniently timed drug tests all the time. Whether said drug tests (and regulations) are keeping up with the cheaters and their methods of performance enhancement is of course a whole other issue.
As I said at the top, I'm not particularly bothered by these allegations, or any doping allegations for that matter. Your mileage may vary, but you can bet your bottom dollar that this will make for some juicy headlines.