Mamadou Sakho of English Premiership side, Crystal Palace is suing the world anti-doping agency for £13 million claiming a drug-test blunder torpedoed his career at Liverpool.
Sakho, 29, was suspended from football in April 2016 after testing positive for a fat-burning substance following a Europa League tie with Manchester United.
The provisional 30-day suspension meant the France international missed out on Liverpool’s Europa League Final defeat to Sevilla and, he claims, cost him a team place at the Euro 2016 tournament, London’s High Court heard.
He was eventually cleared in disciplinary proceedings before UEFA, with the body finding that the substance – higenamine – was not actually on the banned list.
The Crystal Palace defender is now suing for £13m, with his lawyers arguing that his earnings as a player and the worth of his personal brand have been reduced by his move away from Liverpool.
But the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) denies it is responsible for his transfer from the European Champions which, it says was in reality caused by “disciplinary issues” and a “personality clash” with Jurgen Klopp.
In a hearing at the High Court, Sakho’s lawyers told Master Victoria McCloud that his suspension in 2016 had dealt a massive hit to his earnings.
He missed games with the France team, had to foot lawyers’ and scientists’ bills and, ultimately, saw the end of his career with Liverpool and transfer to Crystal Palace, said his barrister, Stuart Ritchie QC.
“Although this is a distinguished Premier League club, it does not have the worldwide reputation or brand recognition of Liverpool FC with the value which this brings to a player, and his associated image rights,” said the QC.
“Only recently has he been re-selected to play for the French national team,” he added.
The court heard Sakho had tested positive for the substance – which was present in a dietary supplement he had taken – in a urine test in March 2016.
The laboratory wrote to WADA – which maintains the list of substances banned in world sports – and was told that the substance was on its banned list, under the category “all Beta-2 agonists”.
But the list did not specifically name higenamine and Uefa found it was “not proven” that it was on the banned list, clearing and “vindicating” Mr Sakho in July 2016, said his QC.
The UEFA tribunal said there were “significant doubts” whether higenamine is a “B2-Agonist” and said there had been a “clear lack of communication” from Wada about its status.
Alongside MS Top Ltd, the company which owns his image rights, Mr Sakho is now suing for millions in compensation, claiming Wada was negligent in its handling of the case against him.
And he claims the impact on his career was made worse when Wada stood by its claims in “defamatory” emails to journalists in 2016 and 2017, said Mr Ritchie.
“In the statements, Wada alleged Mr Sakho was guilty of taking a prohibited, performance enhancing substance, and that it was not appealing against the decision only because it was uncertain that he would receive a significantly higher sanction than the suspension of one month he had already served….” he said.
He is suing on grounds that the statements were untrue and defamatory.
However, Wada denies it did anything wrong, claiming that higenamine was “one of the generic substances banned”.
The body denies negligence or that it owed Mr Sakho any “duty of care”, and questions the impact of the suspension on the footballer’s career.
“We say the loan and transfer to Crystal Palace in January 2017, and the non-selection for France, are events following the disciplinary proceedings and are not causally related to the claimed act of Wada,” said their barrister Shane Sibbel.
Other disciplinary issues, including events leading to his being sent home from a pre-season tour, also played a part in ending his career at Liverpool, he added.
He had failed to get “express approval” from the club to take the dietary supplement and there was evidence of a “personality clash” with Liverpool boss, Jurgen Klopp, he claimed.
At the end of the hearing, the judge ordered that the trial on liability – whether Wada was negligent – should take place before the issue of the amount of compensation is considered.
The court bill for the case is expected to be well over £1m.
Higenamine derives from plants and is outlawed by Wada due to its alleged stimulant properties.