Paris: Tennis great Yannick Noah accused Spanish athletes of widespread doping in an interview published on Saturday, adding the only way to level the playing field would be to allow everyone to use banned drugs.
The 1983 French Open champion told Le Monde newspaper that French athletes no longer had a chance against their Spanish opponents and said his homeland was wrong to impose such stringent testing on its athletes.
"How can a country (Spain) dominate sport from one day to the next?" he asked. "Had they discovered avant-garde training techniques and methods that no one else imagined?"
He said faced with Spanish athletes who were consistently beefier than French ones, the only conclusion was that they must be doping. He offered no other proof.
There was an angry reaction from Spain. Toni Nadal, the uncle and trainer of tennis star Rafael Nadal, said Noah's accusation "not only comes from envy, it comes from a lack of reflection."
"If he approaches Rafa to say hello, I hope my nephew tells him, in a courteous manner, what he thinks of him, because I believe it is totally incorrect for him to speak of this subject in this way," Nadal said on Spanish radio station SER.
"It surprises me that a person of doubtful reputation like him would dare to speak poorly of Spanish athletes."
Noah said the buzz in sports circles was that the only way to win was to stay one step ahead of the capabilities of the anti-doping tests.
"If you don't have the magic potion, it's difficult to win," he said.
It seemed, he added, as if the Spanish had fallen into the vat, like Obelix, the sidekick of Asterix, the French cartoon heroes who accidentally stumble on a potion that helps them win the Olympics.
But Noah didn't advocate a crackdown on Spanish athletes; instead, he said France should be more lenient.
"We're not being treated in the same way as the majority of our adversaries from other countries," he said. "The best attitude to adopt is to accept doping. And then everyone will have the magic potion."
Noah's son Joakim plays for the Chicago Bulls in the NBA, which made his comments all the more surprising to Spanish tennis player David Ferrer, currently ranked No.5.
"His son plays in the NBA, where there are not any anti-doping controls," Ferrer was quoted to say by El Pais newspaper. "Perhaps he is not the most appropriate person to speak about this."
Pep Guardiola, coach of Spanish football giants Barcelona, said at a press conference Saturday following his team's win over Zaragoza that Noah "should present his evidence or shut up."
French Minister for Sports David Douillet condemned Noah's accusations as irresponsible, and said he hoped to introduce a criminal penalty for doping.
"What are we saying in reality when we want to institutionalize doping? We imagine that our children will die at 40 or that 12-year-old kids will take pills in the locker room, that's what that means," Douillet said on France 2 television.
Alejandro Blanco, president of Spain's Olympic Committee, told El Pais that "it is very difficult for ignorant people to understand the explosion of Spanish sports."