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'If you said to me, 'Is there more doping in football than we think?' I would say yes'

David Walsh is our guest on this week’s edition of Behind the Lines.

David Walsh.
David Walsh.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

DURING A FORTNIGHT an ancient age had once earmarked for the 2020 Olympic Games, sports publishing has turned a focus on Russian doping. 

David Walsh of the Sunday Times has written a book with whistleblowers Yuliya Stepanova and Vitaly Stepanov – titled The Russian Affair - while another Russian whistleblower, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, has released an autobiography. 

Rodchenkov oversaw a years-long, state-sponsored subversion of drug tests in his role as the head of Russia’s anti-doping lab before he came clean in the 2017 documentary Icarus. He is now in hiding in the United States, promoting his book over video calls while shrouded in disguise. 

It was in one such interview with the Financial Times over the weekend he made a broad and bracing diagnosis. “It’s a daydream. Sport won’t be clean. Never.” 

Not athletics. Not cycling. Sport. 

That quote by Rodchenkov adds further weight to a recurring question among many sportswriters and fans. Why are some sports seen as being endemically and irredeemably tainted by doping – cycling, athletics, swimming and weightlifting, usually – while others don’t get similarly dismissed? 

We* asked that question of David Walsh in this week’s edition of Behind the Lines, our sportswriting podcast here on The42.

(*Well not quite we – this host did what he usually does, and stole a good question from the listeners’ WhatsApp group.)


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“I don’t think the football authorities are out there really trying to catch people”, said David. 

“I think the football authorities are out there trying to make it look like they have an anti-doping programme. They want to discourage doping but they don’t want to discover doping. 

“I think the same is true of rugby. I think rugby wants to discourage doping, they’d prefer it didn’t exist, but they don’t want to find it. So we’re into this awful situation: the medicalisation of sport. The use of painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and drugs that were never meant to get injured players on to the pitch. That’s not a good thing. 

“You have this fear that sports like football and all the money, it’s like they are too big to have a problem. It’s almost as if there is too much riding on the image of football as a wholesome sport for anyone to go in there and say, ‘You know what, there’s a problem in here.’”  

Listen to the full interview with David by subscribing here. 



About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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