Pandemonium rocks Algerian football after doping claims
Allegations of widespread drug-taking have rocked Algerian football following the suspension of international Youcef Belaili and three other top-division players.
Algeria was the only North African country to qualify for the 2014 World Cup, but the latest controversy raises doubts over the country’s footballing future.
A media investigation has suggested that corruption was common in Algerian football clubs, due to a lack of consistent regulation.
Algerian sports commentators and fans are now blaming the government and Algerian Football Federation.
The damning report by London-based Al-Arabi al-Jadid on 27 January says that the four recent cases are not unique, and highlights 10 other instances where players tested positive for drug use since 2013.
At a nightclub in trendy western Algiers, where players allegedly buy and use amphetamines and other drugs, an employee told the paper that footballers frequented the club to “let off steam and get amphetamines and other drugs, which they believe will enhance their performance on the pitch”.
And, medical experts told Algeria’s El-Khabar newspaper that the football industry was in “chaos” since no doctors were assigned to clubs on a regular basis, and club management was too “centralised” – opening the door for corruption.
The Confederation of African Football banned Belaili for two years from national and international football. Some of the other players were suspended for up to four years or are undergoing investigation.
All the players denied taking illicit substances, with some claiming that they had been under the impression that they were taking vitamin supplements.
For its part, the Algerian Football Federation has said it will enforce more stringent testing for performance-enhancing and social drugs, requesting that football clubs supply information on training schedules in order to monitor players more regularly.
But El-Khabar described these measures as merely “cosmetic” and inconsistently enforced.
A number of papers also recall previous allegations of “systematic, involuntary” doping, after the children of a number of players in the national team which reached the 1982 and 1986 World Cups were born with severe disabilities.
The players ordered an investigation into the national team coach from the time.
Algerian authorities have not commented on the allegations and the investigation has yet to take place. However, one of those affected, midfielder Mohamed Kaci-Said, has said “doubts persist until an inquiry has been opened and the truth told”.
An article in Algeria’s French language daily El-Watan attributes drug use among players to “disproportionately high salaries” coupled with young players’ “lack of maturity”.
Algerian Echourouk Sports website directly asks whether the controversy will have an impact on the country’s possible participation in the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
While some commentators also attribute the use of drugs to salaries and lack of responsibility, others make more outlandish claims – that players such as Belaili were victims of a “conspiracy” against Algerian football.
Although government and football officials have not commented on the reported increase in the use of stimulants, Algeria’s state-owned news agency APS discussed the “shattered dreams of a number of promising sports stars” and noted that this may pose a significant setback to Algeria’s performance in the 2016 African Nations Championship.
Social media solidarity
Several Twitter hashtags were launched expressing solidarity with the Algerian player, including: #JeSuisBelaili, #Solidarite_Avec_Belaili and #WeAreAllYoucef.
Algerian football commentator Hafid Derradji criticized the campaign in the press, saying Belaili was fully responsible “morally, legally, and as a sportsman”.
But, he also demanded that sports journalists accept responsibility for allegedly creating the problem “by justifying Belaili’s behaviour and feeding his ego”.
One reader responded: “Perhaps we should go back to a time when Algerian footballers weren’t paid so much, they played well, and their only stimulants were bread and olive oil.”