As Peru heads into the World Cup for the first time since 1982, the team will have to move forward without its best player and captain, Paolo Guerrero. The Court of Arbitration for Sport extended Paolo Guerrero’s six-month FIFA ban – set to expire this month just ahead of the World Cup – until January 2019. In October, Guerrero tested positive for benzoylecgonine – the main metabolite of cocaine. As some have accused him of using drugs and others have lent their support, Diego Maradona has spoken out and done a little bit of both.
In a statement he released on Facebook today, Maradona said, “I had an illness, and nobody stood by me, on the contrary… Nobody offered me an out at that moment, and I think this needs to end. If the new FIFA is condemning those players, who make people happy, for committing an error, they shouldn’t take away their job. They should help them get better. Because that is a sickness…. It’s a malignant disease! I stopped taking drugs 14 years ago. And if it’s helpful to Guerrero, holding on to your loved ones can help him overcome this difficult moment. The FIFA doctors are there to collect their salary, to say whether something is positive or negative, and nothing more. They don’t watch a fútbol match, not even on TV. I believe that prevention is always better than 14 months of punishment. I say this because I lived through it myself.”
Maradona adds that previous FIFA executives have not been so understanding, but he hopes they will be in the future. “I wish Paolo the best,” he said. “I hope to see him playing in Russia.”
His message is certainly well-intentioned, but it pegs Guerrero as something of a drug addict. Guerrero has maintained that the positive test result came after drinking coca tea. In parts of South America, coca tea is a centuries-old tradition. The drink is not illegal in Peru and though it’s made of coca leaves, is not as intense as cocaine.