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Paolo Guerrero’s Uncertain Path to the World Cup

Peru played well in the their first match of the World Cup but did not get the result they were looking for. Their star, Paolo Guerrero started that match as a substitute, but even getting to Russia was quite a long ordeal.

Reports surrounding Peruvian captain Paolo Guerrero have been conflicting and confusing, to say the least. Headlines have said that he took cocaine. Other headlines have said that he took performance-enhancing drugs.

Paolo Guerrero was given a random drug test in October 2017. That test came back positive for a metabolite of cocaine called benzoylecgonine. Without going too deep into the science of it all, metabolites are chemicals that remain in the body after the body has processed another chemical. FIFA documents make no mention of cocaine, and FIFA never took the angle of accusing Guerrero of using cocaine.  Benzoylecgonine itself is problematic because it’s classified as a prohibited stimulant by the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA).

Guerrero and his lawyers appealed FIFA’s decision. It was asserted that the amount of benzoylecgonine detected in Guerrero’s test does not align with someone who has purposefully consumed cocaine. He only had trace amounts in his system. Guerrero asserts that he was served tea from a kettle that coca leaves, the leaves that cocaine is made from, were boiled in before his tea was made. Supposedly, this tea was served at a restaurant, and he claims he wouldn’t have consumed the tea if he knew of the other sort of leaves that had been in the kettle.

 

 

 

To someone who doesn’t live in South America, that story might seem incriminating, but it’s way more benign than it seems. Coca tea is a legal substance in some South American countries, but it is one that athletes know to avoid. Since the tea is made with coca leaves, it will leave benzoylecgonine in the body, which is considered a performance-enhancing stimulant by FIFA, WADA, and many other sports governing bodies.

Although the numbers have not been released, the FIFA appeals committee handling his case agreed that the test results supported Guerrero’s story. His suspension was cut in half from a year to just six months. In a press release from December 20, 2017, the date the decision was made, FIFA explained that the decision was made “after taking into account all the circumstances of the case, in particular, the degree of fault of the player.”

Guerrero was guilty of testing positive for a forbidden chemical, so he had to do the time for said crime. Yet, FIFA decided that his time should be reduced because it essentially wasn’t completely his fault. He never intended to drink coca tea. In fact, he didn’t drink coca tea. He drank another type of tea that had been commingled with coca tea unbeknownst to him.

Six months is still a very long suspension for any reason. There is a certain magnitude to have what is considered a stimulant in your body when you are a professional athlete. The phrase “the degree of the fault of the player” gives the connotation that the player was partially at fault, just not entirely.

As of December 20, 2017, Guerrero was back in the World Cup, but not for long. WADA, the very organization that came up with the guidelines used to punish Guerrero didn’t agree with FIFA’s decision. Hence, the organization went above the realm of FIFA and made an appeal of its own with the Court of Arbitration of Sports (CAS). CAS upheld WADA’s appeal and increased Guerrero’s suspension to a total of fourteen months, which would, once again, boot him out of the World Cup. Instead of being suspended by FIFA, Guerrero’s latest suspension comes from the CAS.

To appeal this decision, Guerrero and his team of lawyers had to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court of Switzerland, where the Court of Arbitration of Sports is housed. The same evidence that was presented to FIFA was presented the Swiss Supreme Court. The court has made the interim decision to put a temporary hold on the ban from CAS.

As part of the process to reach this decision, both FIFA and WADA were given the opportunity to plead their respective cases against Guerrero, but neither organization opted to. Since this is only an interim decision rather than a final judiciary decision, Guerrero could end up being suspended after the World Cup. The judge did not rule on whether  Guerrero is guilty or deserving of a suspension. The court expressed the sentiments that given his age, Guerrero should not be held back from the World Cup over a situation in which is negligence is only contributory at best.

The captains of Denmark, France, and Australia, the three countries that Peru will compete against in the group stages wrote a joint letter beseeching FIFA to allow Guerrero to compete in the World Cup. Peruvian fans, Guerrero’s teammates, and his national team manager Ricardo Gareca have never wavered in support for the embattled athlete.

 

 

This is a happy ending for Guerrero, his teammates, and his supporters, but it brings about a very unpleasant consequence for one player. The preliminary World Cup roster did not include Guerrero because he was still suspended when it was originally publicized. Now that he is eligible to play, a player had to be deleted from the roster to put Guerrero on it. That unfortunate player was Sergio Pena. Pena is a 22-year-old midfielder who plays for Granada in Spain. While this must be incredibly disappointing for him, his comments to the media show that he is taking it all in stride. Guerrero’s age has come up several times in this debacle, and that is one thing that Pena has going for him. He will only be 26 when the next World Cup rolls along, so he has plenty more opportunities to compete at this level.

There could be further unpleasant consequences for Flamengo, Guerrero’s domestic team when the final ruling from the Supreme Court of Switzerland is announced. If his suspension is upheld for the second time, it could mean that Flamengo will have to go without its star striker for even longer.

After fighting so hard, both on the field and off, to make it to the World Cup, the verdict is still out, will Paolo Guerrero make this a memorable one for spectators? He started the first match on the bench, let's see what he has in store for us against France.

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