There has been some controversy following reports that an abnormal amount of Liverpool FC players are allegedly asthmatic. Reports state that 22 out of Liverpool’s 35 first-team squad suffer from the breathing condition Asthma.

There have been some suggestions that the club are using asthma as an excuse to provide players with a medicament that could be considered as performance-enhancing, and therefore, that the club are cheating.

But what is the truth behind all of this? In this article, we take a look at the overall case, the medicament in question – Salbutamol – and other areas that may lead to an answer behind this case.

Fact Check: Do 22 Liverpool FC Players Have Asthma?

Back in 2020, a report on the Backpage Football website claimed that a source at the club had confirmed that 22 of Liverpool’s 35-strong first-team squad are asthmatic. This equates to 63% of the squad allegedly having asthma.

However, there has been no definitive proof that the above is true. Yet at no point has there ever been reports to suggest that the above is incorrect. If the report is true, then when you compare this to the UK average of 12%, it clearly does seem something isn’t quite right.

Any keen football fan knows that the English Premier League is renowned for its frantic pace, being physically demanding and requiring extreme fitness levels. Therefore, if there is a way of seeking legal performance enhancements, there is bound to be strong demand.

The article was from Alan Moore – an academic who wrote a journal article entitled “Dangers of caffeine misuse in elite sport”. Given the importance of performing in an optimum way in sport, medical teams will do whatever they can to push the players to their physical capabilities – as long as they are doing so in a legal way.

Why do some people suspect Liverpool FC are cheating?

At first sight, it would be fair to assume that Liverpool are very unfortunate in having so many asthmatic players. But when you look closer, this may open up a loophole that results in performance enhancing drugs being used.

The main accusation of cheating comes through a medication called Salbutamol. Salbutamol is a medicine used to treat those who are asthmatic. If we believe the above, it could be expected that the majority of Liverpool’s squad are taking Salbutamol.

Salbutamol is used for its qualities of relaxing the muscles of the airways into the lungs – helping the person to breathe easier. This can be a big help to anyone who is asthmatic or in the midst of breathing issues.

But there are also concerns about Salbutamol’s potential to be used as a doping agent. In 2010, the drug was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) prohibited list, due to concerns over an increase in physical performance after someone inhales Salbutamol. While this was eased slightly in 2011, queries remain over its use.

Some have pointed to Liverpool’s aggressive pressing style, and the abnormally few injuries that the squad have acts as more proof that something isn’t right. The enhanced performance associated with Salbutamol could explain this.

Overall, there is therefore a concern that Liverpool FC are cheating by giving players performance enhancing drugs under the guise of treating their players for asthma. This is what causes some people to suggest Liverpool are cheating.

Salbutamol and Doping

In truth, we don’t entirely know if Salbutamol is capable of resulting in enhancing performance. There is mixed research on the subject. But the fact it is listed on the WADA’s Prohibited List shows there is at least concern over its use.

Salbutamol is best-known for its controversial use in cycling. Back in 2017, British rider Chris Froome was investigated after he was found to have used Salbutamol during the 2017 Vuelta a Espana – an event which he won.

After investigations that spanned a number of months, Froome was cleared of any wrongdoing. It was never revealed what defence Froome used, but it is believed to be focused on an allowance of using Salbutamol therapeutically for asthma. Froome is known to suffer from asthma.

Some cynics suggested that Froome being a well-known figure allowed him to get away with it. Other cyclists, such as Diego Ulissi and Aleessandro Petacchi, were suspended from nine and twelve months respectively, due to testing positive for Salbutamol.

Is doping in football a thing?

We would be foolish to believe that doping doesn’t exist in football. Sadly, doping has dogged so many sports – yet it is something we rarely hear of in football, but it does exist.

In truth, doping does take place in football. In most cases, there are individuals who test positive, rather than entire teams. The most well-known case involves Diego Maradona – who had two separate drug bans, including testing positive for cocaine. There are no documented cases where entire clubs have been found to be doping.

In terms of Salbutamol – it isn’t known if its use is widespread or not. But the fact that it may be seen as a loophole surely means that other clubs are taking advantage of this. How long it will be a loophole isn’t known. But of course, if loopholes are available where an advantage is possible, many teams will take it.

The Takeaway

It is very much open to debate whether or not Liverpool are cheating. Firstly, it should be remembered that it isn’t known for certain that Salbutamol does provide performance enhancements. Moreover, we don’t know for certain if a huge proportion of Liverpool’s squad is registered as asthmatic.

But even if Liverpool are “cheating” – can you blame them for potentially making the most of a lax system where asthma treatments are poorly regulated? After all, they need to do what they can legally to win – even if it does cross ethical lines.