Behaviour of football clubs under scrutiny in doping case
By Elias Hazou
The case of the three football players who recently had to quit the sport due to heart-related problems, alleged to have been caused by intravenous substances administered to them, has also raised the broader question of patient responsibility and rights.
In the beginning of November, three players went to Larnaca police to file a complaint that their health had been affected by intravenous substances administered to them by their club.
The players are Panayiotis Frangeskou and Panayiotis Loizides, who were on the roster of first division side Alki; the third player is Andreas Frangeskou, who played for Salamina on loan from Omonia.
They all have had their careers ended prematurely.
The clubs have denied any wrongdoing.
Having experienced health problems, the three young men had tests carried out at the American Heart Institute in Cyprus, and at medical centres in Greece and Israel.
They were diagnosed with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy – a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood effectively.
Idiopathic is a medical term meaning ‘of unknown cause’.
Their symptoms vary, but include shortness of breath, palpitations and fatigue.
“Panayiotis [Frangeskou] was told he may need a pacemaker, but Loizides’ condition is more serious,” the head of the footballers’ association Spyros Neophytides told the Sunday Mail.
It was Neophytides who accompanied the players to the police when they filed their complaint.
He has since been drawing attention to the issue, appearing several times on media outlets.
Neophytides is aghast at the behaviour of the concerned football clubs. He claims that once the matter came to the fore, the clubs dropped the players like a bad habit and let them fend for themselves.
“Panayiotis Frangeskou needed €1,000 to go to Israel for his tests, but the club wouldn’t give him the money so he had to travel on his own dime. He couldn’t afford it, so in the end our association paid for it,” said Neophytides.
“The guy has a child, and now he is out of a job, with a heart condition, and his club has turned its back on him.”
The chief allegation made by the three players relates to the method in which they were administered the substances, which they say was illegal.
They claim that the substances were administered to them not by a certified doctor, and that this individual was not even part of their club’s staff.
It’s said that the person in question is a biochemist, who worked as an external associate with several top division clubs.
The substances were administered to the players in the dressing rooms, for a period of several months.
The players were in perfectly good health before that, Neophytides points out.
He says only that the three players were administered a variety of cocktails, but is wary of getting into specifics while the police investigation is underway.
Meantime he is being threatened with legal action by some of the clubs.
Shockingly, the affair came to light only by accident.
What happened was that Panayiotis Frangeskou was scheduled to have his athlete’s health certificate renewed in September of this year.
When he went for the medical check-up, he discovered he had a heart condition; his suspicions immediately turned to the cocktails he had been receiving.
“In the weeks prior to his check-up, Panayiotis had been on full training along with his teammates. Imagine what might have happened had he continued training at that high tempo,” said Neophytides.
Football players’ health certificates are renewed every three years – far too long, according to Neophytides.
Essentially, the main charge the police are investigating relates to the law on abuse of the medical profession.
A clause in that law stipulates that the administering of any pharmaceutical for any purpose, therapeutic, diagnostic, or to enhance performance or stamina of a patient, is carried out only by a physician.
Moreover, a physician by law is defined as the holder of a medical degree from a school recognised by the Republic.
In addition, a physician must be listed on the register of doctors of Cyprus, and further must be registered with the Cyprus Medical Association.
The players contend that the law was broken because the person giving them the cocktails was not a registered doctor.
Though Neophytides won’t comment, the Sunday Mail understands that the players were told at the time they were being injected with a cocktail of vitamins and magnesium “to make them feel better”.
“But make no mistake: the players, too, are responsible for not demanding to know, demanding proof, of what they were being injected with,” Neophytides says.
All athletes, he added, should demand to know what goes inside their body, and not just take someone else’s word for it.
This was echoed by Vasos Economou, chairman of the ethics committee of the Cyprus Medical Association.
“All patients, be they athletes or common mortals, must demand to know what is being administered to them. Patients have to be circumspect,” Economou told the Sunday Mail.
He stressed that sports clubs should be mandated to keep paperwork whenever something is administered to an athlete.
“Players need to be furnished with the standard patient consent form, which details the treatment, the medicine administered, and is signed by both the patient and the administering medical practitioner.
“Although enshrined in law, it’s not being done in practice when it comes to sports clubs.”
It’s understood that, in the case in question, no paper trail exists for the cocktails given to the three players.
The Sunday Mail is told that last Thursday the police visited the offices of the Pharmaceutical Services – suggesting the probe is taking another turn by looking into possible doping.
Michael Petrou, head of the Cyprus Anti-Doping Authority (CyADA), said they carry out about 250 to 270 random tests for banned substances each year, across all sports.
In any given year, approximately one fourth of the samples are taken from footballers.
The samples are taken either in or out of competition. For instance, during a game or by visiting a player’s residence before or after a match.
Under CyADA regulations, intravenous injections are allowed (under certain circumstances), whereas intravenous infusions are prohibited.
Intravenous administration refers to small quantities; infusions are defined as the administering of 100ml and over.
Media reports suggest the three players concerned may have received infusions as well as injections.
Since the scandal broke, CyADA has not spoken with the players.
But Petrou says the body will soon be launching its own investigation, perhaps in the coming week.
They are currently in consultations with the World Anti-Doping Agency, discussing the probe’s terms of reference.
CyADA will appoint an independent (not a member of the body) investigator, who would liaise as need be with the police investigators.
Hypothetically, should the probe determine the use of banned performance-enhancing substances, players as well as sports officials would be summoned to tell their side of the story.
Should the parties challenge the findings, disciplinary hearings are held where the accused are afforded the opportunity – and supported by lawyers – to defend themselves.
In case of a guilty verdict, sanctions are imposed. These range from a reprimand to a ban on engaging in any professional sports activity, in any country.
For first violations, authorities hand down a ban of up to four years. Life bans are only imposed on repeat offenders.
Petrou says that use of banned substances by athletes in Cyprus is in line with the global average.
Although CyADA publish aggregate statistics of confirmed doping statistics, they do not publish specifics.
According to Petrou, they are prevented from doing so due to EU laws on personal data protection.
He was referring to general EU legislation in place long before the General Data Protection Regulation came into force this year.
Meaning that currently in Cyprus there is no information whatsoever available in the public domain regarding doping cases – no names, no specifics.
The only information are the hard numbers on the number of cases per year – nothing else.
But, Petrou added, CyADA are working to change this. They have asked the Personal Data Protection Commissioner to initiate a discussion on whether exemptions to non-disclosure can be made.
“She has indicated that she is open to amending the policy for doping cases, under certain conditions.”