BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Julio Grondona, the head of the Argentine Football Association, confirmed Wednesday that doping controls were done away with during the World Cup qualifying playoff against Australia in 1993, a move he says was aimed at protecting Diego Maradona and other players.
The acknowledgment of the lack of testing was Grondona's first statement following charges by Maradona in a television interview on Monday that the powerful FIFA vice president knew about the arrangement and allowed it to happen.
Maradona also has charged that players were given a "speedy coffee" to perform better during the playoff. Grondona made no comment on those accusations in an interview published Wednesday by the Buenos Aires daily Clarin.
"Maradona didn't play in other qualifying matches, and he came (into these matches) after having problems with drugs," Grondona said in the published story.
Maradona and Grondona have been publicly feuding since last year's World Cup, when Grondona declined to renew Maradona's contract as national team coach. Grondona hired Maradona despite his lack of coaching experience when he took the job.
The 79-year-old Grondona also has made previous comments about Maradona's well-publicized battle with cocaine and alcohol. Maradona has claimed during the mudslinging that he has been clean for seven years and has promised to sue Grondona.
"Who knows if incorrectly — out of fear that things might happen — I tried to do away with doping controls because players came that I don't have in my country and one can't know what they are taking — or just stopped taking," Grondona was quoted as saying.
Grondona said there were no doping tests for either match, and he said Australia officials had agreed to the deal.
In an earlier interview, Maradona said "we would not have gone to the World Cup" if there had been doping tests.
Grondona, who has led the AFA for 32 years, declined to apologize for what happened.
"First of all, I don't have to repent because the majority of the Argentine people accept me." Grondona said. "This is my main motive. I don't feel defrauded. The only thing I think is that in life I look for excellence."
Several of Maradona's teammates have confirmed there were no drug tests for the matches.
Former Australia captain Paul Wade said in published comments Wednesday that Argentina was under so much pressure to qualify for the 1994 finals that he would not have been surprised if they had resorted to taking performance-enhancing drugs.
He added he was "absolutely gutted" after hearing of Maradona's comments.
The feud has even reached Argentina President Cristina Fernandez.
Maradona has criticized Fernandez for allegedly protecting Grondona because of a multimillion dollar television deal under which the national broadcaster shows all national league matches.
To help cash-strapped clubs, the Argentine Football Association in 2009 tore up contracts with its TV rights holders and transferred the package to state-run television. The deal, which offers every league match on free TV, was initially valued at $600 million, but recent reports suggest it was closer to $1 billion.
The arrangement gave clubs like Boca Juniors and River Plate a much-needed income boost and is likely to be a vote winner for Fernandez, who is expected to seek re-election in October.