According to Czech Professor Jiri Dvorak, approximately half of the football players who competed at the past three World Cups took non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
“It has become a cultural issue, part of the game. It is absolutely wrong” said the Professor, Fifa’s former chief medical officer.
He conducted a study regarding the use of such drugs, by all players at every Fifa tournament between 1998 and 2014. He reached the conclusion that almost 50% took anti-inflammatory drugs and painkillers that are available over the counter. The Professor declared he raised these concerns before, but Fifa did not address the issue yet.
Danny Mills, former England international defender made more than 320 appearances for Manchester City and Leeds United, among other clubs. His 14-year career ended at the age of 32 through injury. He said that painkillers have always been used in football and will always be. Moreover, he considers that most players look for a short-term fix, to be able to play in the next game.
“I’ve been in many dressing rooms where I’ve seen other players pressured into playing with painkillers.”
According to him, most players do not see a serious threat in taking such drugs, since they are closely monitored by health professionals.
Professor Jiri Dvorak considers the status quo to be dangerous, since abuse of such substances can have life-threatening implications.
“We have to make a strong statement for the players: wake up, and be careful,” he said. “It is not that harmless and you can’t think that you can take them like cookies. It has side-effects.”
On the other hand, according to head of player welfare Michael Bennett, only one footballer raised the issue to the Professional Footballers’ Association in the past decade.
“It was an individual with a back problem and he was taking ibuprofen tablets to get through games and training with it”, Bennett told BBC Sport.
“The issue arose more when he left the game, when he realized he was still taking them and it was a continual problem for him.”
“He addressed the issue by going to see his personal GP and decreased the medication he was taking, and coming off it.”
Daniel Agger, 32, former Liverpool and Denmark defender retired from competitive football when his contract expired at Brondby in June 2016. He recalls how he was a doubt for a game against FC Copenhagen, about fifteen months ago. Being desperate to play, he took way more than the recommended maximum dose of anti-inflammatory drugs, prior to the match. He said he felt sick and collapsed in the dressing room, after being substituted 29 minutes into the game.
“The body could not cope with it,” he told Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in July 2016.
“I have taken too many anti-inflammatories in my career.”
“I know that full well, and it sucks, but I did stop it [in the end]. I am not gaining anything personally from saying this but I can only hope that other athletes do.”