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Doping on Algeria's football pitches

Youcef Belaili, a member of the national team has been banned for doping [AFP]

Date of publication: 3 February, 2016

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Algerian football has been marred by a number of doping scandals in recent months, however this serious sporting offence is more prevalent than previously thought as the following investigation reveals.

Youcef Belaili, the USM Alger and Algerian national team football star who was named the country's best player in 2014 did not think that his successful career would come to an abrupt end at the age of 23.

Belaili received an eight-year suspension by the Algerian Football Federation (FAF) in September 2015 for testing positive to a banned substance after a Confederation of African Football champions league match between his team, UNM Alger and MC El Eulma in August 2015.

Despite the shockwaves caused by the Belaili case in Algerian football circles, his case is not unique as figures by the FAF's anti-doping committee reveal ten instances where players tested positive for doping between January 2013 and January 2016.

The latest player to be charged with doping was Kheiredine Merzougi, the MC Alger player who has been temporarily suspended pending an investigation.

According to figures seen by The New Arab, three of the doping cases since 2013 involved the use of cocaine, while three others involved the use of marijuana and two cases involved the use of banned amphetamines.

Supply chain

The New Arab visited a nightclub in the west of Algiers frequented by the country's football stars after receiving information that the club is where players secure drugs and amphetamines.

"This club is frequented by football players before games, especially on weekends, where they let off steam and get amphetamines and drugs believed to improve their performance on the pitch," said Amin, who is friends with many Algerian football players.

Inside the club, many patrons were clearly observed taking ecstasy and cocaine, which club employee Mohammed Said (not his real name), said were popular among players.

A report by the ONLCDT reveals that the agency in 2015 seized some 10 tons of marijuana and hash, 86 kilograms of cocaine, two kilograms of heroin and over 550,000 various methamphetamine tablets

The drugs are most commonly used by lower division league players due to the lack of regulation from the FAF's anti-doping committee, which focuses on the country's two professional leagues according to Said.

Algerian police say they have confiscated more than 10,000 ecstasy pills in 2015 while conducting routine inspections of nightclubs, which are sold by professional drug smuggling networks.

According to Algeria's National Office for the Fight Against Drugs and Addiction (ONLCDT), 84 percent of drugs seized in 2015 were smuggled into the country through Algeria's border with Morocco.

Customs officials in the northwestern Algerian city of Tlemcen, close to the Moroccan border, told The New Arab that drugs are usually smuggled across the border by organised networks that use animals and four-wheel drive vehicles to cross the rugged border terrain.

A report by the ONLCDT reveals that the agency in 2015 seized some 10 tons of marijuana and hash, 86 kilograms of cocaine, two kilograms of heroin and over 550,000 various methamphetamine tablets.

Serious health risks

"Players who are addicted to cocaine are at risk of sudden death due to a heart attack on the pitch," said the Algerian football team's physician Dr. Ali Yekdah.

Yekdah explained that many of the performance enhancing drugs and amphetamines have severe side effects such as infertility and cancer.

Qasi Said, the Algerian footballer who played on the national team in the 1980s, knows all about the health risks as he has experienced them first hand.

Qasi told The New Arab that the team's Russian doctor at the time forced players to take what he described as "vitamins", but later turned out to be steroids.

Players who are addicted to cocaine are at risk of sudden death due to a heart attack on the pitch
- Algerian football team physician Dr. Ali Yekdah

After his football career, Qasi got married and had twin daughters who were both deformed, and one of whom died a few years ago. The footballer believes that steroids that he was forced to take are to blame.

Six other Algerian players who took part in the 1982 and 1986 World Cup also had children with physical and mental deformities, and one of the players lost his disabled son.

Career killer

The Youcef Belaili case coincided with the suspension of RC Arbaa player, Rafik Boussaid who was given a four-year ban after he used cocaine before a match.

"I didn't expect to make such a mistake that would completely destroy my football career," Boussaid told The New Arab. "A four year ban is very harsh."

Players who are found to have intentionally used performance enhancers or drugs are punished with a four-year ban, while unintentional use of prohibited substances leads to a two-year ban.

Players who refuse to attend their disciplinary hearing face a doubling of their bans, which was the case with both Boussaid and Belaili.

This article originally appeared in The New Arab's sister Arabic languages site and caused a stir in Algerian media as it exposed the serious issue of doping in Algerian football.

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