Officials blame traditional musk deer gland medicine
FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) ― A total of five North Korea players have tested positive for steroids at the women’s World Cup, soccer’s biggest doping scandal at a major tournament in 17 years.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter said Saturday that after two players were caught during the tournament this month, FIFA tested the rest of the North Korean squad and found three more positive results.
North Korea’s national women’s soccer team (AFP-Yonhap News)
“This is a shock,” Blatter said at a news conference. “We are confronted with a very, very bad case of doping and it hurts.”
The last doping case at a major event came at the men’s 1994 World Cup in the United States, when Diego Maradona was kicked out after testing positive for stimulants.
FIFA has already met with a North Korean delegation and heard arguments that the steroids were accidentally taken with traditional Chinese medicines based on musk deer glands to treat players who had been struck by lightning on June 8 during a training camp.
The case will be taken up by FIFA’s disciplinary committee.
Defenders Song Jong-sun and Jong Pok-sim tested positive for steroids after North Korea’s first two group games and were suspended for the last match. The team was eliminated in the first round after losses to the United States and Sweden and a draw with Colombia.
Blatter said the North Korean federation “wrote to us and they presented their excuses. They said that a lightning strike was responsible for this.”
The names of the three other players would only be made public at a later stage, FIFA said.
The gland in question comes from musk deer living in a large swathe of Asia from Siberia to North Korea. The hairy 4-centimeter gland is usually cut open to extract a liquid that is used for medical purposes.
Doping officials have been concerned about such naturally occurring substances in recent years. During the run-up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FIFA’s concerns focused on African plants that could players an unfair advantage by providing energy boosts or helping to heal muscle injuries.
FIFA investigators who discovered evidence of doping in the North Korean samples were in uncharted territory as such steroids had not previously been encountered. Experts from the World Anti-Doping Agency were called in to confirm the breach of doping rules.