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Teams face doping tests before, during World Cup

SHARE Teams face doping tests before, during World Cup

BRUGES, Belgium — FIFA will be testing eight players from each of the 32 teams during out-of-competition controls ahead of the World Cup.

Medical chief Michel D'Hooghe said Wednesday that along with 256 pre-tournament checks, the same number of urine and blood tests will be conducted during the tournament.

Two players from each team will be selected for tests after each of the 64 matches. D'Hooghe said the 512 tests overall represent "an impressive total."

Even though soccer occasionally gets mentioned in drug scandals in Italy or Spain, D'Hooghe is convinced there is no doping culture among the world's 260 million soccer players. He said in an interview with The Associated Press that of the 35,000 doping controls annually, only 0.3 percent test positive. The overwhelming majority are for social drugs such as marijuana and cocaine.

"We had only nine anabolic steroids cases" last year, he said.

The World Cup has been relatively free of doping scandals. At the 1994 World Cup, Argentina forward Diego Maradona was kicked out of the tournament for using a cocktail of banned substances.

"It was one of my toughest moments," D'Hooghe said of the decision to expel Maradona.

The former playmaker will be back as coach for Argentina, which has already subscribed to FIFA's memorandum for a doping-free tournament.

Samples at the World Cup will be tested at the World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited lab in Bloemfontein, about 250 miles south of Johannesburg.

These days, players compete in more games and at a faster pace than a generation ago, but D'Hooghe said the improvement in injury prevention and medical care have partly offset the impact.

He expects the altitude for some games to have only a marginal impact on the players. Many of the World Cup teams practice in the high altitude of the European Alps to get used to the conditions.

"We don't go much higher than 1,600 meters, so a team which prepares itself a little bit will have a training camp at altitude," he said.

The last time it really was an issue was at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, when some grounds were as high as 2,700 meters. Among the nine host cities during the World Cup, Soccer City in Johannesburg stands at 1,694 meters. The beach-side Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban is at just 8 meters.

Other stadiums higher than 1,000 meters include Bloemfontein at 1,351, Pretoria at 1,330, Polokwane at 1,230 and Rustenburg at 1,153. Apart from Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth are also coastal.