Does Belgian football have a doping problem?

Het Nieuwsblad conducted a poll among 100 professional players who are active in the top flight. The respondents were guaranteed anonymity. It turned out that more than 1 in 4 respondents said that they know of at least one case in which banned, performance-enhancing substances were used.

The players were presented a multiple-choice question: a) I have witnessed players use doping, but I never tried it myself b) I know that banned substances are being used in the top flight c) I don't think doping is being used in the top flight. 24 players chose option b, 4 players a.

If these results are extrapolated, it would mean that 1 in 4 professional football players are using performance-enhancing substances, although this is necessarily so as some players may refer to the same case they know of.

"These figures are a surprise to me", says Hans Cooman, who is responsible for the doping checks organised by the Flemish government. "We are holding regular checks among players, both in and out of competition." He points to the fact that these tests give rise to a considerably smaller number of positive cases than the number suggested by the poll.

Hans Cooman says that doping can make a difference. "Some products can improve physical endurance. This can make the difference between a player missing a good last-minute goal-scoring opportunity - as he is tired - or a doped player just chipping the ball in. Other products can help players to recover faster in between two matches."

Ludo Vandewalle, the football expert of Het Nieuwsblad, says that we are talking about "real" doping products like EPO, and not party drugs like marihuana.

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