Paul Pogba has tough fight against ban judging by other stars’ doping cases


The four-year ban imposed on Paul Pogba — a 2018 World Cup winner with France and once the most expensive player in soccer history — in a doping case that could end his career has shocked soccer.

It was also entirely in line with bans in similar recent cases in soccer, including two cases prosecuted by FIFA from qualifying games for the 2022 World Cup and a UEFA case detailed on Friday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Top-ranked athletes in other sports, including Grand Slam tennis champion Simona Halep and Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, also have their careers on hold while their lawyers challenge four-year bans in doping cases.

Four years have been routine since 2015, when the world anti-doping code was updated. Since then, the code also lets bans be reduced or overturned if athletes can show they were not at fault or negligent for a positive test, or were contaminated.

“The feedback at that time, including among many athletes, was that a more robust default sanction was needed,” the World Anti-Doping Agency said on Friday in a statement.

Pogba will be the latest case going to appeal at CAS, to challenge his ban imposed on Thursday by an Italian sports tribunal for a positive test for DHEA, a steroid precursor.

On Friday, the court in Lausanne, Switzerland, published a detailed ruling in the doping case of an international soccer player that helps show the narrow path to a reduced ban.

A four-year ban was imposed by UEFA on Bulgaria winger Georgi Yomov, who tested positive for an anabolic steroid at a Europa Conference League game in July 2022.

Yomov’s argument was to blame his brother, who was said to have crushed steroid pills into smoothies made in a blender they both used at their parents’ home. With no proof to back the theory, and other inconsistencies in evidence noted by the CAS judges, the appeal failed.

The three judges were split 2-1 and noted a four-year ban for Yomov “may be said to be harsh,” the 33-page court ruling said.

“That said, the majority of the panel is bound to apply the rules of which the player was aware, as they are set out,” the CAS judges said. “There is no scope to act otherwise.”

In a different soccer doping case at CAS, judges were swayed by parts of a player’s argument of contamination by an anabolic steroid and cut his UEFA ban to two years.

Dinamo Zagreb player Arijan Ademi tested positive after a Champions League win over Arsenal and was able to persuade judges he had no intent to dope. Ademi could show he checked with team doctors about the supplement he used.

Few details of Pogba’s case have been confirmed officially, and the Italian tribunal judges could take another month to give him their detailed reasons.

“When I am free of legal restrictions the full story will become clear, but I have never knowingly or deliberately taken any supplements that violate anti-doping regulations,” the France midfielder wrote on Thursday on his Instagram account.

Pogba turns 31 on March 15 and his appeal to CAS could take at least several months to be heard and longer to reach a verdict.

The timeline of Halep’s case has frustrated the former No. 1-ranked player, who was at CAS from Feb. 7-9 for an appeal hearing to challenge her ban for a positive test at the 2022 U.S. Open. The 32-year-old Romanian has blamed a contaminated supplement.

Valieva was banned for four years by a CAS panel in January. She tested positive for a banned heart medication that was belatedly revealed at the 2022 Beijing Olympics when she was a 15-year-old star.

A strawberry dessert made by her grandfather said to be taking the medication was offered as an explanation in court — another unproven excuse of contamination by food preparation that did not work at CAS.

“There are too many shortcomings in the evidence,” the CAS judges said in the Valieva ruling, which is being challenged at Switzerland’s supreme court in Lausanne.

Pogba’s case has been dealt with relatively fast so far, but likely still has a long way to go. The Juventus player’s agent is standing by him.

“Wise beyond his years,” agent Rafaela Pimenta wrote of Pogba on Instagram, “clean to the soul.”

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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