Toure, please, don't be even more of a dope
Just like the 'dog ate my homework', how much should we believe that taking diet pills is the reason behind Manchester City's Kolo Toure failing a random drugs test?
Toure celebrates his 30th birthday today but will be thinking more about his immediate future as a footballer than pondering the arrival of a new decade. The Ivory Coast international has been sidelined since March 3 after testing positive for 'a specified substance'. He faces a maximum two-year ban from the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Like Australian cricketer Shane Warne before the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, Toure blamed slimming products that did not belong to him. Warne said his mother gave him a slimming tablet following a night of eating and drinking.
Toure's wife was the supposed culprit in this scandal. The central defender 'innocently' swallowed a pill from his medicine cabinet at home.
As Toure's former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger joked: 'Never trust your wife. That is how he was caught.' Similarly, Warne could reproach the family matriarch.
Involving close female relatives in the story of woe seems to raise the sympathy level for those testing positive.
'These lame stories are getting beyond a joke,' said Malaysia-based former Australia international Scott Ollerenshaw. 'For professional athletes who are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars every month, there can simply be no excuse for taking anything on the banned list.
'Even if it was an honest mistake, Toure must be given the maximum suspension to send out a message to everyone else that they must take extra care in what they put into their bodies. There has to be a zero tolerance policy.'
Seven years ago, Warne received a 12-month ban for taking the prescription drug Moduretic, which can also be used to mask forbidden substances. Controversially, he continued to play in charity matches and bragged that the time off allowed him to extend his test career until 2007.
The kind of diet pill Toure took has yet to be revealed. But Dr Cormac O'Muircheartaigh, medical director at the Singapore Sports Institute, said many slimming aids contain the central nervous stimulant ephedrine, which was banned as an over-the-counter supplement a decade ago.
'Apart from dieting, the most likely reason for an athlete to consciously take a diet pill or diet supplement is as a stimulant,' O'Muircheartaigh said. 'The stimulant acts by increasing the heart rate, and theoretically has been shown to promote short-term weight loss. It was banned for its performance-enhancing effects as a stimulant in competition.'
We might question why someone like Toure, who trains at least five times a week and could play up to eight games a month, would be concerned about his weight. Surely the calories he burns during a busy season would be more than those he would take in at the dinner table.
But, with more sophisticated sports science and dietary practices in place, clubs are getting tougher on players. An optimum weight is set and rising above that could result in heavy fines or time on the bench.
After an 11-year professional career, including nine seasons in the Premier League and 85 international caps, Toure has reached veteran status. Thus, he has to work harder than ever to stay in shape. His official weight was once listed at 74kg, which today seems a bit of a stretch when you see this muscular 1.83m centreback strut his stuff at the City of Manchester Stadium.
O'Muircheartaigh argues that maintaining a particular weight doesn't necessarily mean a player will do better on the pitch.
'How trim or slim and how good a professional athlete looks does not directly correlate with performance,' he said.
'With recovery from injuries and if an athlete has been unable to train, there is sometimes pressure to return prior to full functional recovery. This may be when an athlete feels pressure and may take short cuts to decrease weight.'
This week, Toure had the likes of fellow African internationals Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Adebayor speaking out in his defence. Wenger had earlier painted him as a lovely man and a serious professional.
Few would argue with Wenger's assessment of the one-time Arsenal favourite. Toure no doubt has some wonderful personal qualities, just as Ben Johnson and Marion Jones do - but at the same time they are all drug cheats under the strict rules of their respective sports.
Doping violators aren't evil people who wear sinister hoods like the Grim Reaper. They have friends, families and fans but, for whatever reason, choose to cross a line that the majority doesn't.
Ollerenshaw, who played 18 times for Australia in the late 1980s, now organises the annual Borneo Cup, which comprises different age-group tournaments in Sabah state, Malaysia. He advises young players on all aspects of the game, including warning about taking supplements or medications they are not sure about.
'It's all about self-responsibility and being aware of everything you do,' he said. 'Because the last thing you want to do as a professional footballer is to one day have to come up with a pathetic excuse about why you failed a routine drugs test.'