In sport, every failed drugs test has its official apologist, whether it is the Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Luis Zapatero, for the cyclist Alberto Contador, or the equally august Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, jumping to the defence of his former player Kolo Toure.
Wenger explained Toure's A sample by claiming the defender had merely taken slimming pills belonging to his wife, while Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini went so far as to dedicate Saturday's win over Wigan Athletic to the former club captain, describing him as a fantastic man and a serious professional.
He may be both. Equally, he may be a rotten drug cheat. We just don't know. And we'll never know. Men like the sprinter Dwain Chambers, who confessed to systematic cheating, are rare. Most positive tests are followed by a litany of excuses based on protestations of ignorance (I took a cold cure, I didn't know there was anything in it), wide-eyed innocence (it must have got contaminated at the lab, I've never take a drug in my life) or the bizarre (the steak did it, which was Contador's excuse).
Sidelined: Kolo Toure may protest his innocence, but it is unlikely to save him from a lengthy ban
In football, beyond failures for recreational use, the thought that a player might take stimulants to enhance performance is dismissed in an instant. Yet think about it. This is a sport in which cheating is endemic. Players dive to gain an advantage, or to get an opponent in trouble.
They even appeal falsely for something as insignificant as a halfway line throw-in. A penalty given against Blackburn Rovers at Fulham is disputed, not because there was no offence but because if that type of foul is penalised there would be 10 penalties per game.
So why does it then follow that the moment they leave the field the same players adhere to a rigid code that is not present in athletics, cycling or American team sports.
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One thinks of Juventus and its training-ground pharmacy described in evidence to an official investigation as being comparable to the facility at a small to medium-sized hospital.
A hearing in October 2002 heard that Juventus had 281 medicines on site, three-quarters of which were prescription only. At least five of the anti-inflammatory drugs held contained banned substances.
'Either the players were always sick or they took drugs without justification and going beyond the therapeutic field to improve performances,' said Professor Gianmartino Benzi, a pharmacological expert from the University of Pavia. 'To discover such a quantity was strange and amazing to us.'
Juventus's club doctor Riccardo Agricola was found guilty of sporting fraud and was sentenced to one year and 10 months in prison, although he did not serve this as a Turin appeals court found it could not apply the sporting fraud law in the instance of drug use at a club. Still, it shows what can happen.
Toure's mistaken use of a diet pill sounds innocent enough, except that the reason some diet pills are banned is because they contain energy-producing chemicals - which is why they were popular with recreational users as a form of speed, known as black bombers or purple hearts - and can also be a diuretic. Anything that flushes fluids from the body can be used as a masking agent to dispose of traces of other drugs. For a sportsman, the motive for taking a simple diet pill may not be as wholly blameless as it sounds.
Either way, any footballer will have listened to enough lectures and warnings on carelessly ingested supplements to know that pills should not be used without first taking advice from a club medic.
Even if Toure acted unwittingly, to accept his explanation opens the door for other, nefarious, users who will cite his precedent. That is why the World Anti-Doping Agency insists athletes have strict liability for the findings of a positive test. Foolishness is an explanation; it is not mitigation.
Sorry figure: The banned Toure sat out Saturday's win against Wigan
What is remarkable is that it is so immediately advanced by those within the game as the only possible reason for wrong-doing. Toure, we are told, may have been worried about meeting Manchester City's strict fitness regime and, struggling with his weight, took one of his wife's diet pills without considering the consequences.
Yet, how about this alternative scenario? Toure was worried about meeting Manchester City's strict fitness regime and, with a place in the first-team and lucrative contract to protect, chanced taking an illegal substance as a way of keeping weight off or improving performance? Either circumstance is possible. We just don't know and probably never will for certain.
Equally, we cannot say whether Rio Ferdinand left the Manchester United training ground because he was forgetful or had something to hide, or whether Christine Ohuruogu skipped three drugs test because she was a silly old scatterbrain or a dedicated cheat.
All we can say is that to presume innocence, to believe the apologists' insistence that one of the richest sports and some of its richest sportsmen could not possibly be motivated to cheat flies in the face of the evidence at football grounds every week: which is that the end justifies the means.
?Responding to the understandable fears of absolutely nobody, FIFA have banned the wearing of snoods from July 1. Whether the ball has crossed the line or not is apparently of less importance. They'll get back to us on that one.
Pain in the neck: Carlos Tevez won't be permitted to wear his snood next season
?The Football Association claims that FIFA rules do not allow them to act if an incident has been dealt with by a referee. As has already been established, this is not true.
FIFA article 77 gives provision to rectify obvious errors in the referee's disciplinary decisions. Indeed, the extent of the FA's craven complicity in perpetuating injustice is revealed in the form sent to officials in the event of controversy.
Part one asks if the referee saw the incident and only if the referee answers 'no' is he directed to part two. There is no loophole for a referee who saw the incident to admit a mistake on review.
Even Sepp Blatter hung the FA out to dry at the weekend by confirming that FIFA's rules do permit the reconsideration of any incident.
So it is not FIFA that place officials in an impossible position, but the FA's rigid interpretation of their rulebook and its cowardly insistence on hiding behind the higher authority.
?'Fair play' would kill fairytalesNot everybody is turned off by UEFA's fast-arriving financial fair play rules. Yet the majority of football supporters also seemed very keen on Birmingham City's win over Arsenal in the Carling Cup final last week. Results like that are regarded as the soul of sport. Birmingham, short term at least, redefined their place in the natural order.
Yet, looked at another way, Birmingham are exactly the sort of success story financial fair play is designed to prevent. The club is living beyond its means on money it does not have, provided by controlling shareholder Carson Yeung, who is now mortgaging private properties to keep the club afloat. Without these funds, in the region of ?12m, Birmingham may suffer 'a significant curtailment of its operation', read a statement. There is even a question mark against its participation in the Europa League next season.
Success at a price: Birmingham City celebrate their Carling Cup Final triumph
In other words, just as Portsmouth won the FA Cup with a squad it could not afford, Birmingham's first major trophy since 1963 was achieved on the back of owner investment. Without Yeung's involvement, Birmingham could have been required to sell some of the better players in the January transfer window. Take away Barry Ferguson and Nikola Zigic, for instance, and what would have happened at Wembley? Pretty much what happened against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, one presumes.
So far, UEFA and its disciples cannot reconcile how football can keep delivering the fairytales that engage the fans while also implementing financial fair play. Not least because, if hardnosed economics are allowed to override ambition and fantasy, there is no way Birmingham can live with Arsenal at Wembley, no matter who Arsene Wenger puts in goal or whether Robin van Persie is fit or not.
?There was good news and bad news for followers of West Ham United this week. According to reports, Chelsea are willing to offer Avram Grant a job as Director of Football at the end of the season; Grant (right), however, insists his future remains with West Ham. As for what constitutes the good news and what is the bad, despite recent improvement, the jury remains out.
AND WHILE WE'RE AT IT... The joke evades ButtAs if any further evidence of the dark nature of Pakistan cricket were needed, Ijaz Butt, chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, is demanding the ICC investigate the tied World Cup match between England and India.
Regarded by most observers as the highlight of the tournament so far, the unusual outcome was called by Shane Warne in a throwaway remark on Twitter. That has been enough to provoke Butt's crass intervention, despite there being not a shred of evidence that Warne's words were anything more than a light-hearted aside.
Pakistan cricket has hidden behind bogus conspiracy theories for too long, while the sport continues to pay the price for its corruption. Australia had to deny that their match with Zimbabwe was fixed because their openers scored just 28 in 11 overs. Credit should have gone to the Zimbabwean bowlers for keeping it tight; instead the immediate suspicion was of a spot-fixing coup.
Thank Pakistan for that.
?Kevin O'Brien enjoyed one fabulous day with the bat for Ireland against England, but counties vying for his signature in the summer should beware. O'Brien played 10 completed innings for Nottinghamshire in 2009, reached double figures just three times and had a top score of 42.
His knock last week was inspired but the stimulation of playing in a World Cup for his country may well have been a significant factor. Football learned the folly of using a World Cup performance as a yardstick long ago; well it did after the 1994 Romanians got about 20 club managers the sack.
?Houllier's bad callGerard Houllier: High risk policy
Gerard Houllier, the Aston Villa manager, explained his calamitously weak team selection for the FA Cup fifth round tie with Manchester City by saying he was taking into account a crowded fixture list. 'My view is to keep everyone fresh and hungry,' he said.
Hungry for what, exactly? Despite Saturday's defeat at Bolton Wanderers, Villa are unlikely to be relegated and are not in Europe. Going into last week's match at City, Houllier's squad had little to play for beyond mid-table mediocrity - and the FA Cup. By picking an inadequate team, he called time on their ambitions of success.
There will be no dream of Wembley now, no fighting for the right to be in the starting line-up for the big cup ties to come. Interest in Villa's season is effectively over in the first week of March.
For what great challenges are these players keeping fresh, then? A battle for 12th place with Everton and Fulham? The big one at home to Wigan Athletic on May 7? That might have constituted the game before Villa's appearance in an FA Cup final, a last chance to impress. What will it be now?
A team can very easily become demotivated. If Villa's season ebbs to nothing after they dribbled to defeat against Bolton on Saturday, Houllier has only himself to blame.
?And again we ask: what is keeping the owners at Anfield? The latest speculation is that Kenny Dalglish will be offered a full-time contract as manager, lasting two years.
There is no danger of him wanting to leave so, financially, a short-term deal makes sense. Yet it is ironic that if Liverpool were to employ a foreign manager, or a novice with no track record in English football or experience of our game - and we continue to play a version of the rules as indicated by the lamentably weak performance of referee Phil Dowd at Anfield - he would no doubt receive the security of a four-year contract.
All smiles: Liverpool's Luis Suarez receives a pat on the back from manager Kenny Dalglish for his role in the 3-1 win over Manchester United
The fact Dalglish is an honorary local with boundless love for the club is no reason to treat him like an apprentice. He deserves more. Particularly after Liverpool's most complete performance in two years, considering that the 4-1 win at Old Trafford in March 2009 owed so much to Fernando Torres's destruction of Nemanja Vidic.
Luis Suarez was brilliant on Sunday, as was three-goal, two-yard hero Dirk Kuyt but, under Dalglish, the team's the thing.
?Steve Kean is bullish about guiding Blackburn Rovers to survival. 'With Blackpool, Birmingham City and Bolton Wanderers coming up at home, I'm confident we'll get the points,' he says. Although once Ian Holloway, Alex McLeish and Owen Coyle hear this, an equally confident prediction is that Kean will be in for more of a match than he suspects.
?Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is Manchester United's choice to replace Edwin van der Sar, who has announced his intention to retire at the end of this season.
It is not the job of Sir Alex Ferguson to act for the benefit of English football but, even so, Neuer (right) would be an unfortunate choice. He is 25 this month, meaning he has another 10 years ahead of him at the top in club football, maybe more.
The goalkeeper's berth at the biggest club in the Premier League could therefore be closed to an English occupant for a decade. If Wojciech Szczesny of Poland - 21 next month - makes the grade at Arsenal, it will be an equal blow.
?Explore more:People: Alex Ferguson, Robin Van Persie, Dwain Chambers, Sepp Blatter, Gerard Houllier, Nemanja Vidic, Alex McLeish, Rio Ferdinand, Roberto Mancini, Dirk Kuyt, Christine Ohuruogu, Ian Holloway, Kevin O'Brien, Kenny Dalglish, Fernando Torres, Arsene Wenger, Edwin Van Der Sar, Barry Ferguson, Kolo Toure, Shane Warne, Owen Coyle Places: Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Germany, Ireland, Pakistan, Australia, Spain, Poland, United Kingdom, India, Europe Organisations: Pakistan Cricket Board, Football Association, World Anti-Doping Agency
Source: Daily Mail
Source: Daily Mail