It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently. – Warren Buffett

Paolo Guerrero was suspended for 14 months for testing positive for a banned substance after the game that Peru played against Argentina in Buenos Aires. To be more precise, the metabolite was a derivative of cocaine called benzoylecgonine but over the last week new facts have come to light that cast doubt over the decision to sanction the player.

When there are cases of doping in sport the athlete must be able to demonstrate how the prohibited substance entered their body. During proceedings, WADA plays the role of prosecutor and often sets out to make an example of athletes who contravene the rules. Unlike other CAS proceedings where money or other interests are the most important, there’s something far more valuable at stake here; an athletes reputation. After the due processes at CAS and the Swiss Federal Tribunal a sanction was ratified and the 35-year-old player was suspended until 5th April 2019


Firstly, what are WADA’s prohibited substances?

WADA divides substances and methods (also known as the forbidden list) into three categories:

  1. Firstly, there are substances that are always forbidden. This means that athletes are prohibited from using them both in and out of competition. Among the most prevalent are anabolic agents, peptide hormones, beta 2 agonists, hormonal modulators and diuretics. It should be noted that methods of blood manipulation, chemical-physical and genetics are also prohibited. (This involves the improvement of athletic performance by blood transfusion, manipulation of samples taken during anti-doping control and the use of genetically modified cells.)
  2. Secondly, are substances that are only forbidden when the athlete is in competition, among which stimulants are subdivided into specific categories, for example, specific and non-specific substances including narcotics like cocaine or morphine as well as cannabinoids (natural and synthetic) and finally the glucocorticoids such as cortisone. 
  3. Last but not least there are substances that are only banned in certain sports. This consists mostly of beta-blockers for sports such as motor racing, darts, golf and shooting.

In CAS anti-doping cases “there can be no question that CAS review is de novo.” This means that the court acts on a first instance basis , without considering if the issue has been previously been reviewed by another body or entity, which might have already issued an opinion or award on the matter.

So what happened to Guerrero?

While the Peruvian team was in the hotel preparing for their World Cup qualifying game, Guerrero was suffering from a very strong flu meant he didn’t feel 100% for the match. Following the recommendations of his nutritionist and a doctor from the Peruvian Football Federation, he ingested flu medication served to him by the kitchen staff in a mug of warm tea.

A few days later, after playing the match against Argentina Paolo was doping controlled and tested positive, which is where the problem of liability began. How did a derivative of cocaine get into his system? Who was responsible?

Many stories emerged about the player during the next months and although the striker could not prove innocence, his lawyer Juan De Dios Crespo appealed to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, who allowed Guerrero to play at the World Cup in Russia 2018. However, he then had to continue to serve his ban of 14 months and suffer reputational damage.

Guerrero, trusting in his innocence and asserting his right to defence, denounced the staff of the hotel after learning that they revealed confidential information to WADA in two emails dated 7th & 15th February 2018 in which, according to the player, the hotel revealed their infusion service and details of their catering deal with the Peruvian Federation of Football (FPF). The information that they sent to WADA was considered as evidence in the appeal before CAS, which ultimately sanctioned Guerrero.

Coca Tea

Part of the player’s defence at CAS was that he possibly ingested the prohibited substance due to cross-contamination, as the player admitted having ingested an infusion of tea for his flu. In the highland countries of South America, such as Peru and Bolivia, it is very common to drink coca tea to soothe headaches or general body relief. This brew is a custom that comes from ancestral times and is so common that many people (especially from the Andes) continue drinking it today. Guerrero knew this drink could cause problems during doping controls and allegedly asked the waiters of the hotel for a normal tea. So what happened?


This last week Anthony Obando and Erick Paz, a waiter and ex-waiter from the hotel spoke to local journalists in Peru. They accused the hotel of not taking adequate precaution when serving the food and drink. After years of working at the hotel, they knew that the containers in which food and beverages were supplied were not properly washed, because they sought to serve customers as quickly as possible. They pointed out that before the incident the hotel had coca tea among the infusions on the hotel menu, but that it was quickly removed after the doping case, because the hotel wanted to exonerate themselves of responsibility. They also indicated that there was a high possibility that the infusion jug that the Peruvian striker received from the kitchen suffered from cross contamination. In this regard, they expressed the following:

“The Swissotel Food and Beverage Manager, Ivan Hoyle, urged us not to testify before the Peruvian Football Federation and not tell what happened, because they would damage the hotel with their statements. Likewise, Hoyle told the employees that he would fire them if they spoke.” (Source: Diario El Comercio)

According to experts, ‘cross-contamination’ is something we hear very often when we talk about food safety and it became very important in the case of Paolo Guerrero, where workers and ex-workers of Swissotel admitted that their tea could have been contaminated. According to experts pro cross-contamination can occur when:

  • The hands of those in contact with food are not clean
  • Utensils and preparation surfaces are not sufficiently cleaned
  • Insects or rodents come into contact with food

Since the sporting sanction had already ended and the striker has returned to a great sporting level, he’ll never recover the months of worry, the time out of competition or the damage to his image and reputation. The search for truth is priceless and honour is a right that we all have especially professional athletes. Perhaps rather than Guerrero, those that knew better but who said nothing should be punished. In fact Guerrero has just taken Swissotel to the civil courts in Peru. Hopefully, the truth will soon come to light!

Franco Rodriguez

3 thoughts on “Doping (Paolo Guerrero case)

  1. Congratullations
    A very clear and objective article
    The penalties of doping for soccer players are markedly more drastic than other athletes such as boxers, tennis players, basketball players, etc


  2. Do you really think that the cross-contamination came from coca tea? What’s your opinion?
    In Lima no one takes coca tea. As you mentioned, it is commun for people in the Andes, not for people leaving in the coast. Knowing this, it feels something wrong about Paolo’s defence.


    1. Scientifically it’s certainly possible. There have been other examples of contamination through water or meat but in this instance I’m wary because there have been allegations that these ex-employees are being paid to testify in Guerrero’s defence. We will update the article as we get more concrete information!


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