Spain

Operation Puerto and it’s Legacy Part 1

July 12th 2003. In the scorching summer heat the Tour de France peloton prepares for a punishing day heading east from Lyon into the mountains of Morzine. The first mountain day of the centenary Tour and the chance for the top contenders to lay their mark on the race.

Within the Kelme team bus Spanish climber Jesus Manzano confidently phones his wife telling her to expect a big win today. How could he be so sure of victory? The team doctor Dr Eufemiano Fuentes had just given him an injection of an unknown substance. He would later find out that it was Oxyglobin, a blood substitute used to treat anaemia in dogs.

Manzano’s predictions rings true early in Stage Seven, as he and eventual stage winner Richard Virenque break from the peloton on the first climb to attempt to join the earlier breakaway. Three kilometers up the Col de Portes Manzano begins to feel dizzy before collapsing at the side of the road 500 meters later. The race doctor mistakenly diagnoses heat stroke as he is airlifted to a nearby hospital. It’s here that Manzano claims team manager Joan Mas asked him to refuse all blood tests.

He suffered a near-fatal dehydration that day, something he later testified was because of his Oxyglobin injection. This near death experience had a massive effect on Manzano who begins to grow disillusioned with the sport. He was forced by the team to ride to 2003 Volta a Portugal, however in the days leading up to the race he became ill again with an allergic reaction after receiving an contaminated 125ml blood bag from Fuentes assistant.

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Jesus Manzano in the green,white and blue Kelme jersey in happier times. Soon after this early break on Stage Seven he would collapse from extreme dehydration caused by doping products. Photo: AFP.

Two serious health scares thanks to doping were a lot to handle for the young Spaniard. Late in the 2003 Vuelta a Espana the team fired him for disputed reasons. The team said they fired him for breaking the rules on having a woman in his room during the race. He testified in court that the team fired him once he told them they were putting riders lives at risk with their doping programme.

Kelme moved on without Manzano, who was now facing an uncertain future within cycling. After six months of quiet the matter exploded back into life in March 2004 when he did an interview with Spanish newspaper As detailing Kelme’s doping.

The story made national news as he listed the cocktail of drugs he used between 2001-2003 including EPO, blood transfusions, cortisone, a female hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin,testosterone, Synacthen which has been used in horse racing, Actovegin derived from calf blood  and Oxyglobin. He also made damning allegations that the team pressured him to dope and that they assisted with doping. He also explained that before the 2003 Tour de France he was asked to contribute €3000 to contribute towards the teams medical expenses, something he believes every rider on the team did.

His allegations caused a stir within the sport as he explained that every rider on the Kelme team apart from Juan Miguel Cuenca were doping. This was a major controversy that engulfed star riders on the team such as 2002 Vuelta winner Aitor Gonzalez, 2nd in the 2001 Vuelta Oscar Sevilla, 3rd overall in the 2003 Vuelta Alejandro Valverde and 4th overall in the 2002 Tour Santiago Botero. These were some of the most successful and promising Spanish riders in cycling being implicated in doping.

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Aitor Gonzalez on the top step celebrating victory in the 2002 Vuelta a Espana. Gonzalez never climbed these heights again before retiring in 2006 after a two-year doping ban. His more recent exploits have included alleged bank fraud and robbery. Photo: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com.

The response from the sport was to be expected. The team refuted all allegations and said that Manzano’s motives were revenge after the team fired him the previous September. Tour de France director Jean-Marie Leblanc also questioned the allegations, however after further revelations he rescinded the Kelme teams invite to the 2004 Tour.

Whilst the sport dismissed his claims the Spanish Sports Council opened an investigation immediately looking into these allegations. They questioned three doctors and staff associated with the team during the early 2000’s Dr Walter Viru,  Dr Eufemiano Fuentes and Alfredo Cordova. The investigation was later dropped because of a lack of evidence.

This appeared to the end of the matter, with the revelations seemingly going nowhere as the sport moved on into 2006 with nothing having changed. That however, was soon to be shattered in a massive way.  Find out in Part Two.

By Jordan Wilkins

Thank you so much for reading this article if you have any feedback at all I would massively appreciate it just let me know in the comments section below! Find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.    

 

 

 

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Is Greed Killing European Football?

Wednesday 14th November 2018: German publication Der Spiegel publishes it’s latest instalment of their Football Leaks articles, revealing how Chelsea midfielder and World Cup winner N’Golo Kante refused to be paid part of his Chelsea salary through Jersey for tax benefit and to receive offshore image rights payments. Kante has rightly been lauded as being one of the seemingly few top-level footballers who is not abusing the tax system.

Just let that last sentence sink in for a moment. We’re lauding Kante for being one of the few footballers at the highest level who is doing the right thing. Much like the Lance Armstrong doping era in cycling, it now seems the number of footballers who are not manipulating the system for financial gain are few and far between.

The Football Leaks documents have shown that the world’s best in football have been engaged in tax avoidance for maximum financial benefit. Mainly centring around Spanish clubs the world’s elite of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have both been forced to pay fines and back taxes for dodging tax. Predicted Ballon D’Or winner Luka Modric has also fallen foul of this, and now also faces a potential perjury charge back in Croatia for links with a former agent whilst at Dinamo Zagreb.

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Luka Modric wins the best FIFA men’s player 2018, yet he has been embroiled in a tax evasion scandal of which he could now face perjury charges for back in Croatia. Photo: Ben Stansall AFP/Getty Images. 

World super-agents such as Pino Zahavi, Jorge Mendes and Mino Raiola are all facing allegations based from the latest Football Leaks documents. Zahavi is accused of flouting Belgian league rules by owning Royal Mouscron, along with potential fraud and money laundering charges from Belgian police.  Mendes is accused of bypassing English FA rules with a clear conflict of interest as he appears to profit from player transfers from his business partner who owns Wolves. Finally Raiola is accused of breaking FIFA rules on player transfers by not disclosing he was negotiating on behalf of all three parties in the record-breaking transfer of Paul Pogba from Juventus to Manchester United in 2016, thus earning himself a £41 million pound commission.

The latest allegations are a more serious sporting violation, with articles outlining star Real Madrid and Spain defender Sergio Ramos failing a doping test only hours after beating Juventus to win the Champions League in 2017. He is said to have tested positive for banned in-competition dexamethasone, a cortisone preparation which is an anti-inflammatory which can also help improve concentration levels.

Ramos is also accused in a separate incident from April 2017 of defying anti-doping protocol and taking a shower before providing a urine sample. In Spanish anti-doping regulation to knowingly do this could be considered an violation of anti-doping laws.

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Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos celebrates winning the 2017 Champions League final against Juventus. Hours later he is alleged to have failed an anti-doping test. Photo: Press Association.

This is not even taking into account the fact that in the build-up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, several players from the Russian national side were under suspicion of doping as part of the national sporting doping programme that was exposed after the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

The Russian Football Union sent FIFA a list of eleven professional players who played in Russia who were under suspicsion for doping. Yet due to confidentiality reasons they would not disclose these names with FIFA without written permission from these athletes. This farcical explanation doesn’t pain Russia in an entirely positive light, and Der Spiegel alleges that two of those names were Russia national team defenders Sergei Ignashevich and Mario Fernandes. Star midfielder Denis Cheryshev’s father is also quoted as saying in the build-up to the World Cup his son was given an injection containing growth hormone.

FIFA is also alleged to have dragged it’s heels with a potential independent investigation into doping in Russian football, prolonging this to prevent an adequate investigation being completed before the 2018 World Cup was held in Russia. Maria Claudia Rojas has effectively been FIFA General Secretary, and stalled for months with leading anti-doping investigator Richard McLaren about setting up an investigation into Russia ahead of the World Cup.

The Premier League has not escaped the Football Leaks documents, with champions Manchester City accused of flouting financial fair play rules, along with examples of some of the leagues top clubs and players being accused of avoiding tax on agent fees and players image rights. Then you have outgoing Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore close to getting to £5 million farewell pay-off, and the PFA spending £1.65 million on a L.S Lowry painting, yet only spends £100 000 pounds on research into links between football and dementia.

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This 1953 L.S Lowry oil painting Going to the Match was bought by the PFA in 1999 for £1.9 million pounds, yet they only spend £100 000 pounds on research into dementia and football. Photo: L.S Lowry/ The Lowry Collection.

Even the Bundesliga, often held up by many fans as the last bastion of fan power within corporate European football has not escaped the greed. In 2016 champions Bayern Munich secretly began planning to breakaway from the Bundesliga along with Europe’s elite, to create a European Super League to replace the Champions League. Lawyers were also drafted in to look at whether they could refuse to release their players for the German national side, to keep them fresh for their club side.

Of course all of these allegations are simply that, and nothing has so far been proven and everyone involved should be given the benefit of innocence until proven to the contrary, however the latest allegations that are presented in the Football Leaks documents provide detailed and compelling evidence. We must not also forget that their first round of allegations led to a lot of unpaid tax convictions across the football landscape that led to suspended prison sentences and heavy fines.

The points that I have listed in this blog are only the tip of the iceberg from the second wave of Football Leaks documents, and they paint a damning image of modern European football. Clubs are trying to bypass the history and tradition of both their club and national sides for financial benefit, along with abandoning the fans who have made these clubs the best in their respective countries. The day that any European Super League is announced will be a very dark day for all football fans.

For professional football players and their super agents, with the exorbitant wages they already earn, to then be trying to maximise their earning further by funneling money through offshore tax havens and not declaring it as gifts to themselves is just greed of the highest order. I can imagine that being taxed heavily is extremely frustrating, but these players and agents will still be earning more than 99% of the population after tax. The potential court cases and perjury charges pertaining to this are an unfortunate consequence of corporate greed that has engulfed football in Europe.

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Borussia Dortmund fans protest at rising ticket prices in the Bundesliga, but yet the club were in talks to join a European Super League several years ago. Photo: Getty Images. 

If these doping allegations prove to be true about the likes of Sergio Ramos and the Russian national players, then what are the hundreds of millions of fans worldwide watching. Fans want to see the best players in the world, not simply the players whose bodies are the most responsive to doping products. We have seen in other sports such as baseball and cycling how widespread doping can ruin the spectacle, leaving fans questioning every good athletic performance. Please don’t let this happen to football. The anti-doping authorities at FIFA have more work to do, as their commitment to the anti-doping message is severely questioned by their obtuse tactics with Richard McLaren and setting up a truly independent investigation into Russia.

The Premier League is widely recognised as the best and most competitive league in the world, with a global following that is unmatched by any other league. The unfortunate truth is that the massive influx of money into the Premier League have largely turned it into a corporate entertainment event. Many fans complain of high ticket prices, players and managers earn obscene wages and the players union spends almost twenty times as much on famous paintings as they do on research into links between football and dementia just shows that money has become a primary motivator for the majority of people associated with the Premier League.

For anyone interested please check out some of the Football Leaks stories from Der Spiegel and their partners at the EIC network a list of their articles can be found here. If you have any comments or reaction to this article I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments section below. Anyone interested can find me on Twitter @JWjournalism and thank you for reading!

By Jordan Wilkins