Five members of Mexico's Gold Cup squad have been suspended after they tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol. They are goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa (Club America), defenders Francisco Javier Rodriguez (PSV) and Edgar Duenas (Toluca), midfielders Antonio Naelson (Toluca) and Christian Bermudez (Atlanta).
The general secretary of the Mexican Football Federation, Decio de Maria said that the five players were suspended with immediate effect. They could also potentially face a two year ban from the sport if the investigations turned up any wrongdoing. However, he also added that tainted chicken or beef could be the cause of the banned substance appearing in their urine samples.
"We know there is a health alert throughout the country because of food contaminated with Clenbuterol and that will be taken into account for the investigation."
Tour de France champion Alberto Contador tested positive for the same substance after claiming he ate contaminated meat. He was given a provisional one year ban which was later rescinded by the Spanish Cycling Federation after he was cleared of doping charges. Beef containing Clenbuterol regularly shows up in samples from China where it is used in cattle feed to increase the muscle to fat ratio thus making it leaner and more attractive for human consumption. Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, and Portugal have also reported outbreaks of illness attributed to Clenbuterol tainted meat.
Clenbuterol is a beta2-adrenergic agonist, i.e., it is a sympathomimetic amine (substances that mimic the sympathetic nervous system) and is used by asthmatics in its clinical form as a bronchodilator to make breathing easier but increasingly it is being sought after for its weight loss properties which makes it popular with athletes. In the USA it has not been approved for human use and its only application is limited to treating airway obstruction in horses.
The substance "repartitions" body mass by reducing body fat and increasing skeletal muscle mass. It also "wires" the human body by increasing aerobic capacity, stimulating the central nervous system, and driving up blood pressure and oxygenation. At higher doses than 120 µg per day it could potentially prove toxic with side effects including heart palpitations, muscle tremors, nausea, headaches, and nervousness.
What makes Clenbuterol attractive to many athletes, especially women is that it has none of the disastrous androgenic qualities of anabolic steroids (think of the East German women's swimming team) which include facial hair and deep voices. The WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) considers it a performance enhancing substance and it is included on the banned list.
This is the largest group of footballers caught with Clenbuterol doping in one swoop which points a finger to either a rogue trainer or tainted meat as an explanation. Usually it is the one off athlete in an individual sport where the need for speed is paramount; hence the more visible cases in cycling, athletics and swimming. The most celebrated case however belongs to Kirk Radomksi, the former NY Mets batboy and clubhouse attendant who pleaded guilty to charges of distributing steroids (including Clenbuterol) to dozens of major league players and money laundering in 2007.