Algerian football has been rocked by allegations of widespread drug-taking after the suspension of international Youcef Belaili and three other top-division players.

Belaili was banned by the Confederation of African Football for a period of two years from national and international football. The 23-year-old USM Alger midfielder admitted the charge and waived his right to have his B sample tested, according to an announcement by the Algerian Football Federation (FAF).

Some of the other players received suspensions for up to four years or are undergoing investigation. However, all the players have denied taking illicit substances and some claim that they were under the impression that they were taking vitamin supplements.

Doubts are raised over the future of football in Algeria after the latest controversy. Algeria was the North African country to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

A recently-concluded media investigation has hinted that corruption was prevalent in Algerian football clubs because of a lack of consistent regulations. A damning report by London-based Al-Arabi al-Jadid on January 27 revealed the four recent cases are not unique. The report highlighted 10 other instances where Algerian players tested positive for drug use since 2013. The report revealed information passed on by an employee at a nightclub in trendy western Algiers that players allegedly buy and use amphetamines and other drugs and frequented the club to let off steam and get amphetamines and other drugs, which they believe will enhance their performance on the pitch.

Algeria’s El-Khabar newspaper was told by medical experts that the football industry in the country was in “chaos” since no doctors have been assigned on a regular basis to clubs and management of the clubs was too “centralized” that opens the door for corruption.

The Algerian Football Federation, in its defense, said it will enforce stringent testing for performance-enhancing and social drugs. It further requested that football clubs should supply training schedule information so that regular monitoring of players can be undertaken. However, El-Khabar described these measures as only “cosmetic” and inconsistently enforced.

Drug use among players was attributed by an article in Algeria’s French language daily El-Watan to disproportionately high salaries coupled with lack of maturity of young players.

The Algerian government and Algerian football federation have been blamed by sports commentators and fans in Algeria.

Criticizing the campaign in the press, Algerian football commentator Hafid Derradji said Belaili was fully responsible morally, legally, and as a sportsman. Derradji also commented that responsibility should be accepted by sports journalists for allegedly creating the problem by justifying the behavior and feeding his ego.

A number of newspapers in Algeria went on to recall allegations of systematic and involuntary doping in the past, after the children of a number of players in the national team that reached the 1982 and 1986 World Cups were born with severe disabilities. The investigation has yet to take place and Algerian authorities have prevented themselves from commenting on the allegations. One of the affected players, midfielder Mohamed Kaci-Said, has remarked doubts persist until an inquiry has been opened and the truth told.

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