Conspiracies and football are two of the most interesting things life has to offer, so it’s no wonder why, when they combine, it makes for a very interesting story. There’s no doubt this Liverpool team are one of the greatest teams to ever have been assembled and so it’s no surprise that there are rumours circulating online from fans that Liverpool has taken measures to enhance their physical performance, but are they completely baseless? All rumours have to start somewhere, so let’s investigate.
How did the Liverpool asthma conspiracy start?
In 2020 an article titled ‘Why Liverpool won’t win the Premier League this season’ was published that stated, that due to the intense nature of the Premier League, “the fittest teams who have the best benches and the best injury prevention invariably win.” In the article, the journalist claims a source at the club said 22 out of the 35 players at Liverpool at the time are asthmatic, which is interesting because that’s 63% of the squad, compared to the 12% UK average. This is where the controversy begins because, statistically speaking, how can a large number of a team of elite athletes report being asthmatic when, in general, it’s quite a rare condition.
This has led to the Liverpool FC asthma conspiracy theory, as fans are questioning the authenticity of the Liverpool players’ diagnoses, as well as bringing the wider legal doping regulations into the spotlight. As the Premier League is renowned for its frantic pace, being incredibly physically demanding and requiring extreme fitness levels, if a team can legally increase their overall fitness levels, they will do so. It’s not their job to uphold a strong moral compass, all these teams do is focus on finding ways to win, and if that means a loophole then so be it.
It’s worthy to mention that in athletes, asthma is more common than you would expect. As elite athletes will exercise beyond the limits of people who do not exercise or even amateur athletes, they can suffer from exercise-induced bronchospasm, which according to studies is prevalent in around 10% of the general population and 20% to 50% of elite athletes, especially those engaged in high-intensity aerobic exercise.
Liverpool reached 3 cup finals and was challenged for the Premier League title, meaning they played every single game they possibly could. And they have done so at a high intensity arguably for the last 4 or 5 years. Liverpool’s aggressive pressing style and the abnormally few injuries to the squad over this time do suggest something has enhanced their performance.
What medication are the players taking?
By being diagnosed as asthmatic, clubs can prescribe a medication called salbutamol. Salbutamol relaxes the muscles of the airways into the lungs so is a big help for anyone who is asthmatic or has difficulties breathing, and so it has the potential to be used as a performance enhancer for people without asthma. What it does is it opens up the lungs, making it easier for oxygen to pass through the lungs, which means the athlete can get more oxygen in so they can fuel the muscles more so they can go for longer, which obviously can be very beneficial for athletes.
Controversy around Salbutamol
In 2010, Salbutamol was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list, so there is concern over its ability to increase physical performance. Its been an issue in cycling as British cyclist Chris Froome was investigated after he was found to have used Salbutamol during 2017 Vuelta an Espana, an event that he won. He was cleared of any wrongdoing as he is said to suffer from asthma, but cynics suggest it was his high profile that cleared his name, as other cyclists, such as Diego Ulissi and Alessandro Petacchi were suspended for 9 and 12 months respectively, due to testing positive for Salbutamol, while Bradley Wiggins, a Tour de France winner, was allowed to compete on salbutamol.
So despite it being on the World Anti-Doping’s prohibited list, it is allowed for exceptions. For the FA, their prohibited list allows a certain amount of salbutamol, so it’s not against the rules of what Liverpool is potentially doing. As I said, it’s their job to win the game, but does that mean other clubs are doing it?
Is ‘doping’ in football a real thing?
There are obviously cases where individual footballers have tested positive for banned substances but there are no documented cases where entire clubs have been found to be doping. The Bayern Munich model has to be looked at as they are machines when it comes to creating elite athletes, similarly, how can Real Madrid explain the change in the physique of players like Ronaldo and Bale. RB Leipzig has an East German doping criminal in charge of their sports medicine, Leicester City players visited Dr Mark Bonar who said in an undercover interview back in 2016 that he prescribed banned substances for more than 150 top athletes, including players from major premier league clubs, and he was struck off soon after this interview came to light. Leicester’s 2016 Premier League win is looking pretty suspicious now, right?
Clubs associated with Mark Bonar denied any wrongdoing and that they fully comply with all anti-doping rules and regulations, which may be true. Liverpool very well may have acted in accordance with the rules as laid out by the current system. But does this current system prevent any cheating from occurring? Or is it even cheating if everyone has access to the same medications?