BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Political stalemate in Spain and failure to reach a deal with football's governing bodies have damaged efforts to maintain doping tests in the Spanish league.
Only 57 doping tests have been carried out in Spain's first division this season, according to the country's anti-doping agency, while more than 400 players have seen action in over 200 matches so far.
In 2015, Spain's anti-doping agency carried out 889 doping tests in the top two divisions of Spanish football and the Copa del Rey tournament, an average of 74 a month.
Questions from The Associated Press regarding when those 57 tests were carried out and if testing in football is still continuing were not immediately answered by the agency.
Equally worrying for WADA, the world's anti-doping agency, those 57 tests in the first six months of the season were done while Spain remains non-compliant with WADA's stricter standards.
WADA called the lack of tests in a football league that boasts such star talents as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar "alarming."
"The lack of testing in a country with one of the leading football leagues worldwide for a period of almost 12 months is alarming, and will do little to instill confidence in clean sport at a time when it is needed most," WADA said in a statement.
Spain's anti-doping agency said that the Spanish government is close to ending an almost year-long wait to bring its doping legislation up to WADA standards. The government had been unable to act following a political deadlock in parliament caused by two inconclusive elections that finally gave way to a new government in October.
Spain's anti-doping agency said that, unlike in football, it succeeded in reaching agreements with the international governing bodies of other sports to assist in maintaining doping testing during the past year.
Its efforts, however, to strike such a bargain with both FIFA and UEFA failed.
"Both federations declined to sign the agreement," the Spanish agency said in a statement. "FIFA understood that its jurisdiction was limited to countries' national teams, while UEFA understood that its jurisdiction was limited to clubs playing in UEFA competitions" such as the Champions League and Europa League.
"Therefore, no agreement was reached in football so that one of the international federations assumed responsibility for monitoring doping in Spanish football," the agency said.
The Spanish league refused to comment on the tests when questioned by The AP. Spain's football federation also did not issue a comment, saying it was a matter for the league.
WADA criticized the lack of a deal.
"It is deeply disappointing that some international federations did not sign the agreement, as this has prevented effective anti-doping programs from being run at the national level in Spain," it said.
The Spanish anti-doping agency said that Spain's own anti-doping laws have continued to be enforced during this time. None of the 57 tests in football came back positive.
FIFA and UEFA have also continued to test for doping in international competitions held in Spain, including the Champions League, Europa League and Spain's national team.
In 2013, Spain passed a sweeping anti-doping law to much fanfare, but it was left out-of-date when WADA's anti-doping code was revised in 2015.
WADA declared Spain "non-compliant" in March after the country failed to adapt its law because its caretaker government was unable to pass new legislation for 10 months.
WADA also suspended the accreditation of the Madrid drug-testing lab in June, dealing another blow to the country which has long been under scrutiny following the long-running Operation Puerto doping scandal that implicated some of the world's top cyclists. Spain's other doping laboratory in Barcelona remains in operation.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was finally able to cobble together support to form a minority government in October, clearing the path for new legislation.
The Spanish anti-doping agency said that new anti-doping legislation is close to being presented to parliament for its necessary approval to become law.
The new law would make a greater number of infractions punishable, allow for harsher sanctions and extend the statute of limitation for violations.