French outlet Mediapart are reporting this evening that Real Madrid central defender Sergio Ramos failed a drugs test the night before the 2017 Champions’ League final and UEFA did not sanction him.
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On Sunday 4th June 2017, a sample arrived from Wales to a laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria. The vial was numbered 3324822 and contained 110 millilitres of urine from a Real Madrid player following the Champions’ League final vs. Juventus in Cardiff.
A little more than a month later, on the 5th July, the Deputy Director of the Seibersdorf Institute sent a report to UEFA headquarters in Nyon. The verdict on this sample was that it contained traces of dexamethasone, a potent glucocorticoid. This particular molecule is grounded in cortisone, which has anti-inflammatory properties, reduces fatigue and the perception of pain – it also sharpens an individual’s concentration and focus.
Most importantly, this synthetic corticosteroid is on the list of banned substances during competition, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
This sample came from Sergio Ramos, Spain and Real Madrid defender and one of the greatest central defenders in the game. A subsequent UEFA investigation led to no action being taken against Sergio Ramos, or against Real Madrid’s doctor, despite a reporting error.
The Spaniard also didn’t receive any sanction following a league match in April 2018 where he ignored an anti-doping representatives specific instructions not to have a shower before taking a test, which is in violation with regulations. Mediapart assert that documents show that football authorities went lenient when faced with anti-doping rule violations committed by one of the world’s best players.
At UEFA headquarters, on July 7th 2017, two days after receiving the positive test results of Ramos, Caroline Thom, the anti-doping officer, wrote to the player to ask for explanations.
A response was fired back on July 10th, it was five lines long. Ramos claimed that he received, the day before the final, “a pain treatment for my shoulder and my knee”. For details, everything is in a “medical report” prepared by Mikel Aramberri, one of the Real doctors. “I hope this clarifies the situation completely,” finishes Ramos.
WADA’s rules on the use of dexamethasone are crystal clear: the substance can be administered outside of competitions (i.e. more than 24 hours before the match), but the treatment must be mentioned before anti-doping tests occur.
Sergio Ramos’s 3b form, in which the athlete in question is required to specify the treatments which he was the subject of during the seven days preceding the test, did not mention the administration of dexamethasone.
On 9th July 2017, club doctor Mikel Aramberri stated that Sergio Ramos was innocent and that the incident was his fault. Dr. Aramberri explained that Ramos suffers from “chronic pain” in his left knee and shoulder. He added that the player complained of pain on June 2nd 2017 in the late afternoon, the deal before the final of the Champions’ League final, and so received two intra-articular injections of dexamethasone in his left knee and shoulder.
The doctor claims that he declared the wrong substance on the form because of the “excitement” and “euphoria” in the dressing room after the UCL final victory. Dr Aramberri also cited the “exceptional circumstances” in the dressing room, with the King of Spain Juan Carlos and the Spanish Prime Minister congratulating the Real captain in the doping control area.
Dr Aramberrri indicated that it was because of this that he confused two very similar substances, concluding: “A human error, understandable. It is clear that I have never intended to violate the anti-doping rules.”
UEFA consulted an “expert” who “confirmed” that two intra-articular injections of 1.2 millilitres “would be consistent with the concentration of dexamethasone found in the sample”, the organisation claimed in a letter sent to Sergio Ramos and Real Madrid on the 12th July – the investigation stopped there.
UEFA judged it to be “very likely” that the player and the doctor made “an administrative error”. And decided to “close the case without disciplinary proceedings,” telling Ramos: “In future we ask you and your doctor to take the utmost precautions when completing a doping control form, especially when you declare a treatment.”
Sergio Ramos benefitted in this case from the cloud that surrounds corticosteroids which is widely used by athletes to treat their pain. Regulation of these substances is complex because of the varying strands.
If taken more than 24 hours before a match and administered intra-particularly, dexamethasone found in Ramos’ urine could have been completely legal. However, it is difficult to prove, several weeks after a doping test, the date of the injection and whether the syringe was planted in the muscle rather than cartilage.