Children affected? Algerian footballers seek 'doping' answers

    Story highlights

    • Several former Algerian footballers have fathered children with disabilities
    • These players believe they were administered drugs in the 1980s without their consent
    • The Algerian national team had Russian coaches and doctors at the 1982 World Cup
    • Scientist doubts that effects of performance-enhancing drugs can be passed on
    Mohammed Qassi Al Saeed, Mohammed Shoaib, Saleh Larbas, Jamal Manad, and Tak Ben Sawlah all played international football for Algeria in the 1980s.
    But, as well as being teammates for their national side, the players also share another common bond -- each one of them has fathered a child that suffers from mental health problems.
    The players say they suspect this is no coincidence, more a direct consequence of taking performance-enhancing drugs while playing for their country, without their knowledge or consent.
    Rashid Hanafi is a respected figure in Algerian sport. He is president of the Algerian Olympic Committee, but was once doctor for the national side. He admits that suspicious practices occurred during the 1980s.
    "When Russian Gennady Rogov took over as coach in 1981, I was not allowed to take a look at the medical records of the players any more," Hanafi told CNN.
    "I suspected he was trying to do some suspicious tests, and this is why I submitted a detailed report to the national center of Algeria sports and medicine and the ministry of sports.
    "But they asked me not to interfere in the work of the Russian team, which is why I decided to resign.
    "Whether the coaches used drugs on the players, and whether that affected their children negatively is something I cannot confirm. But nonetheless, Russians were known in the late 1970s and early 1980s for their suspicious behavior on the sport field."
    Hanafi added: "It is not necessarily true that these drugs had a direct effect on the children, but if we look at the whole situation we'll find that most players' children have some mental issues."
    Rogov, who is no longer alive, led Algeria to a famous victory over West Germany at the 1982 World Cup. CNN's efforts to reach any doctors who worked with the Algerian team at that time proved unsuccessful.
    But could these players and their families merely be victims of coincidence?
    Professor Richard Sharpe, a senior scientist at the Medical Research Council Human Reproductive Sciences Unit in Scotland, doubts that any performance-enhancing drug or steroid could be transferred to offspring in such a manner.
    "It is possible you can take a drug that would cause mutations of DNA and therefore result in children being born with disabilities," Sharpe told CNN.
    "But I think it is extremely unlikely that this would happen -- and I know of no drugs or substances that would be used to enhance sporting prowess that could be transferred and therefore cause these abnormalities."
    Like Hanafi, none of the players can prove there is a direct link, but they want answers to what has happened to their children -- and it is their words that are most poignant of all.
    Shoaib had three daughters who all suffered mental health problems, with one of them, he says, dying as a result of her condition. "Nobody can understand our suffering," he told CNN.
    "I am shocked because I never took drugs in my life -- unless of course I was given them without our knowledge and that the Russian coaches knew it."
    He added: "Some years later, I met with some of my former teammates and we discovered that we were all in the same situation: me, Qassi Al Saeed (his daughter), Larbas (a son), Jamal Manad (three sons) and Ben Sawlah (daughter). We all played at the same time, so we decided to make it public, and find out why."
    None of the players would elaborate on those mental issues, which is not uncommon given cultural taboos surrounding the issue in that part of the world.
    Larbas' son Bilas is now 12 years old. "When he was born, I said, 'This is our fate, and we should accept it,' " Larbas told CNN. "It did not come to my mind that this could be something related to drugs, until I met up with the other guys.
    "I remember the Russian doctors who used to supervise our treatment during training sessions; all we cared about was playing and winning. I know it will be difficult to reveal the truth without sufficient evidence, but opening an investigation is very important."
    Al Saeed also wants answers.
    "I believe in fate, but having the same mental problem among everyone in the team is something very strange," he told CNN.
    "I don't understand what Dr. Hanafi said in terms of not allowing him to view the files, which means that a group of people were doing something in the dark, but we will not stop asking for our right to know."
    He added: "My second daughter, Madina, was born in 1989. When she reached school age, she said to me: 'Why can't I go to school like other girls?' I did not know what to say, so I held her and cried.
    "Is there anyone in this world who prefers money and fame and have some unhealthy children? I don't think so, so we need immediate answers from authorities. We know that reopening this case is difficult, but we need to know the reasons that made us reach this point."