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Financial Doping in Sports: Injecting Cash-Drug in Sports Bodies

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

Doping refers to use of prohibited substance or methods by sports-persons for improving their sports performance, which are prohibited by the concerned regulatory body. However, with passing time, Doping has evolved to involve a wide range of dubious and unethical means by which an athlete enjoys an advantage in his performance. For instance, ‘mechanical doping’ refers to the alleged application of illegal technologies for enhanced performance or for gaining n edge over the competitors by means like concealed motors in the frames and wheels of bicycles. Another case is of Oscar Pistorius, who was accused of ‘technological doping’ when his blades were thought to give him an unfair advantage over competitors that did not use them. Financial Doping is one such form of doping and has been the latest addition to this dimension of sports. Financial Doping is a situation where a sports franchise, borrows heavily in order to contract to pay high performing players, which not only hampers their credit value but also jeopardizes their long term financial plans.

Thomas Muller was the first who first attempted an academic definition of the concept. Financial Doping was defined as: “… financial means not earned by a club directly or indirectly through its sporting operations or supporter reputation, but rather provided by an external investor, benefactor or creditor detached from sporting merit and supporter reputation as well as from sustainable investment motivations.”

Financial doping from a Legal perspective

Financial Doping gives a message of performance enhancement through financial enhancements on the same side as an illegitimate enhancement of performance through prohibited substance and practices. In case of a traditional doping, a substance is banned for particular reasons, and then the same factors should also be applicable to financial doping in sports. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited list states a substance and/or method is prohibited if at least two of the following apply:

i. It enhances sport performance,

ii. It poses a potential health risk to the athlete,

iii. It violates the spirit of sport.

Financial Doping qualifies for at least 2 of the above factors which is enhancement of sports performance and violation of spirit of sport, and therefore ought to be considered illegitimate and should be banned or regulated. One of sports great appeals is unpredictability, the anxiety and excitement of what could be. Sports where you can predict the winner every time tend to be un-engaging.

The fact that sports performance has shifted away from the pitch to the pockets of the wealthiest owner or creditor ready to shower millions to gain advantage, is a grave issue to the spirit of sports. The aesthetic and competitive aspects of sports get lost due the commodification of sports by involvements of unregulated financial activities. This form of wealth based distribution and allocation of athletic talent would result in uneven acquiring of talents by one team and thus result in distributive injustice and oligopoly. This disrupts the competitive balance and uncertainty involved in sports as it dents the fundamental aspects and values of sports which is that sporting competition ought to be challenging, competitive and the outcome unpredictable.

UEFA Financial Fair Play Regulations- A check on Financial Doping

The Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations was introduced by Union of European Football Associations(UEFA) in 2010-11 to prevent Football Clubs that qualify for its competitions from spending beyond their means and to stamp out the “financial doping” within football. Prior to this clubs took ventured out on acquiring high performing players by incurring inflated transfer fees and salaries, which they could not afford, but with the hope that, on the field, success would follow and the revenues would increase, so that the costs could then be covered. However as of 2021, Football’s financial fair play rules are to undergo dramatic change, with the key break-even measure declared “purposeless” by Andrea Traverso, UEFA’s director of research and financial stability. With Covid-19 creating a crisis “very different from anything we have had to tackle before”, according to officials, they believe new rules should concentrate on clubs’ wage levels and the scale of fees in the transfer market.

Instances of Financial Doping in Sports

The first highlight in Financial Doping which caught eyes would be the case of Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea FC. Abramovich was the ultimate Premier League Santa-Clause. His money ensured Chelsea were able to assemble a world class squad to compete with the very best in Europe. However, this comes with the darkside as well. As of Feb, 2021 Chelsea owes a debt to tune of £1.3billion, (which has been converted to debt held in a holding company, Fordstam Limited) to its owner, which raises questions about its financial stability and sustainability especially at a time where the pandemic has hit the revenues of most of the sporting clubs globally.

Financial Doping again captured the headlines a few days back when La Liga chief Javier Tebas has claimed Manchester City could not sign Lionel Messi on his previous Barcelona terms without the aid of “financial doping” Messi is now a free agent after his contract at Barcelona expired on June 30 . That has led to speculation clubs such as Premier League champions City, who were heavily linked with Messi last summer, or Paris Saint-Germain could step in. It would be interesting to see how this turns out to be.


Financial doping presents a grave danger to the world of sports as it challenges the core principles that sports is build on: performance and uncertainty. Moreover, it hamper the sports economy as it sees funds being spent that has not been generated by clubs but is given to them as credit. It hampers the spirit of sport as it ends being a mere commercial activity. Just like traditional doping measures, the appropriate authorities must step in and establish regulations (and strengthen the existing one) to limit to curb this form of doping. The influence of money can not be eradicated in sport, nor can it be denied that there are other factors that might undermine the spirit of sport in similar ways. Some team must win for some reason, and it is inevitable that some teams will be more dominant than others. Sports would be better if it was more competitive, unpredictable and where there is increased mobility in terms of who wins. You could say that wealth and success in sport is self-affirming; having one boosts the other and visa-versa. However, the trend of financial doping must be controlled or else the sports world could be at risk of becoming too predictable and more boring.

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