The controversial first case of cocaine doping in Argentine soccer

the season that Antonian Youth had been carrying out in the 1995 Interior Tournament was a dream. In a contest that granted direct place to the National B the team raised the illusion of the holy people.

Already in the second round the team showed its candidate’s veneer, being the protagonist of one of the most impressive goals in the club’s football life: 10 to 1 they will beat Independent Rivadavia de Mendoza in the sanctuary of Lerma street.

That afternoon many of the great figures of the team showed off. Among them, Marcelo “Roña” Cortesa boy born in the bowels of the club who from the age of 12 defended the Antonian colors and who at 15 had already debuted in the first division.

A context for doping in Argentina

Since the mid-1970s, cases of doping have begun to appear in Argentine soccer, and in 1980 the implementation of regular controls in official matches is made effective.

The vast majority of the initial substances found had to do with ephedrine. Then, to a lesser extent, amphetamines and methamphetamines will appear as active substances.

To this incipient context began to be added, at the beginning of the ’90s, the repercussions given by the positive results of cocaine that Diego Maradona had in his European career.

The 1994 World Cup and the controversial suspension that Diego suffered brought back the issue of doping, stirring up controversy, debates and a few ghosts of social stigmatization.

Until June 1995 there were no cases of positive doping for cocaine in Argentine soccer. However, it will be in a match played on June 18 between Rosamonte of Misiones and Juventud Antoniana de Salta, where the news will break with media and social virulence. The fingers point and another story begins.

Coke as a way of life

Coqueo (chewing coca leaves) in Salta is an ancestral cultural trait carried over to the present. The use has to do with a collective identity, in which even its practice homogenizes across social classes. The coca leaf circulates without any type of impediment, it is sold in any store in sight of everyone. There is no concealment.

For the people of Salta, coca is an element of identityalthough seen from afar and with ignorance, is transmitted as a danger to society by being thought of as cocaine, ignoring the central question: to produce the hydrochloride, only one of the fourteen alkaloids that the leaf has is used, while to reach Several chemicals and a complex manufacturing process are added to this substance.

“We are a family that we have coked all our lives. Coke is a habit, it’s something that suits me”, Marcelo Cortés begins his story. “I remember that there was a man who was a fan of Youth who lived around the corner from the field and gave me coke before traveling with the team. It was something normal, nobody hid it, yes even playing soccer coke. With “the Guacha” Flowers we put on a coquita and played the games”, he recalls.

Season 95 and the trip to Misiones

“My career was fabulous, it was a year in which ‘the rose opened’. they wanted to buy me from San Juan. He was doing very well, he had a good punch, he scored many goals from free kicks and we also had a great team… ”, Cortés relates in relation to the 1995 season.

Around June, the Antonian team had to travel to Misiones to face the Rosamonte Sports Club of the city of apostleswith the intention of maintaining the illusion of achieving the maximum title. That game, on June 18, will be won by the Salta team 3-1.

However, approximately a month later, a piece of news bursts into Antonian social and sports life. “One day he calls me Tito Rodriguez, who was the president of the Club, to his accounting office and he tells me ‘che Roña, you got anti-doping. I want you to tell me the truth.’ He told him that not at all, that he hadn’t consumed anything prohibited, and he told me ‘ready, I believe you, we’re going to do a rhinoscopy now’. And there we went to make me the study that obviously came out negative”.

That day they notified the Club of the situation reported in the match against Rosamonte, at the same time that They gave him the match for lost.

“That night I cried like never before, I was very sad, also my whole family. In addition, everyone worried asked me if it was true, to tell them the truth… he had to tell everyone the same thing, that he hadn’t done anything. It was hell. On top of that, the next day at my work, journalists were looking for me to talk. I went out to show my face because I had nothing to hide but I didn’t know how to act. Those days were an ordeal for me, everyone hit me with a pipe. They came out to say that it was high-purity cocaine without asking, confirming, or anything.. It appeared everywhere that Marcelo Cortés from Juventud Antoniana had used cocaine, they killed me. Journalism spent its time introducing the issue to sell. Every day something appeared in the newspapers or on the radio.”

Clipping of the news in the newspaper El Tribuno.

Cuts he had already served the three-month suspension that had fallen on him, however, the stigmatization and above all the judicialization of the issue, was still latent. “When all this happened I I had to go to Misiones to testify because they had opened a case for me there, and I never went, everything had already happened. Then one day they went directly to look for me and arrested me at the Club. We were playing on a Sunday, that day I even scored two goals, they call me when the game ends so I can go to the Club Secretariat. I thought they were going to pay us, but there were three plainclothes police officers and they told me that I had to accompany them because I hadn’t appeared to testify, so they took me to the Federal Police. Luckily I was able to tell my brother that I had gone to watch the game… the next day they took me to Misiones and there they just dismissed everything. But it was really unheard of.”

Epilogue without official self-criticism

Apologies never came from the upper echelons of Argentine football, neither for the player nor for the institution. Such an accusation was not reviewed, nor was that error compensated. The damage was already done. “Luckily the Club was very good to me, they believed in me. The substance that came out and they showed it to him the biochemists who worked with us at the AFA were traits of coca from coqueo. I coked a lot, that is not hidden, and I continue to do so to this day. Apparently that made it positive.”

El Tribuno newspaper clipping.

Marcelo Cortés today still hesitates to talk about the subject, but he feels that he has nothing to hide and that the best thing that can happen to him and his family is to continue telling the truth “It is total ignorance what happened to me. Even after all the commotion that arose with the case, the subject was discussed a lot in the Legislature of Salta and they wanted find a way to completely legalize the use…there was a lot of talk afterwards.”

The former player has been working for more than 30 years in the Judiciary, since he was a professional. His sons also faced a goal in professional football and his daughter is ready to graduate from law school.

Marcelo bears the stigma of being the first player to test positive for cocaine in the history of Argentine soccer and this error, which no one ever retracted, brought him great problems in those days and could have generated many more if in his family environment and sporty they would not have trusted his word. “I always said that time will tell the truth, I always thought that, and that’s how it was”, emphasizes the former saint player.

Cortés’s experience is an example of ignorance, stigmatization and the search for a scapegoat that works as an escape valve for a situation generated by public opinion and fueled by tabloid journalism, largely from the centrality of power, without take into account the cultural diversity of a country that goes far beyond the borders of Buenos Aires.

It would not be bad to think about removing Cortés from that accusatory list of positive dopingwhich, far from generating support or help for those who need it, ends up being a blacklist in an increasingly darker football and not precisely because of the players.

* The images are courtesy of @HistoriaCJA

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