The future of wild child Kerem Bulut has emerged as a possible world football test case, as Professional Footballers Australia looks to appeal his four-year cocaine ban and the World Players Association battles to have use of the recreational drug reclassified as a minor category infraction.
The former Western Sydney Wanderers cult figure, 27, is just over a year into a potentially career-ending ban handed down by the Turkish FA after his admission to taking the drug at a party.
The severity of the penalty on the ex-Menemen Belediyespor front-runner has raised eye brows and galvanized the PFA and the WPA, led by Swiss-based Australian lawyer Brendan Schwab, into advocating that cocaine use by sports stars should be a matter rehabilitation rather than retribution.
Schwab, who heads up the body which represents athletes across the globe, sees differentiating substances like cocaine from performance enhancers as a matter of urgency.
If the World Anti-Doping Ageny plays ball then Bulut’s hopes of having his ban quashed and returning to football as early as this year would receive a massive boost.
“As the WADA Code is currently being reviewed, reforming its current treatment of substances of abuse in the same manner as performance enhancing drugs is a key priority,” Schwab told The World Game.
“We are deeply concerned that the WADA Code continues to operate in a way that imposes manifestly unjust penalties on athletes who clearly are not performance enhancing drug cheats.
“This only undermines athlete confidence in the code, and distracts WADA from its number one challenge of preventing systematic doping as we saw, for example, in Russia.”
Even under existing norms Bulut has been harshly judged.
Romanian star Adrian Mutu received a seven-month ban for the same offence in 2003, while Diego Maradona served a 15-month ban in 1991, also after testing positive to cocaine.
More recently, Peru skipper Paolo Guerrero was allowed to participate at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, when a Swiss Federal Tribunal temporarily rescinded his cocaine ban.
PFA John Didulica is exploring an appeal, whilst simultaneously seeking to assemble all the relevant facts in the Bulut case, some of which appear sketchy.
“We’ve been briefed by Kerem and offered our support,” said Didulica.
“We've tried to get the details of the judgement from the Turkish Football Federation and also the Turkish anti-doping agency.
“Until Kerem is provided with that information it's extremely difficult to consider appeal rights and execute the best course of action.”
Meanwhile, Bulut, who has faced allegations of gang membership and affray in a controversy-laden past, remains in purgatory, his career dangling by a thread.
“Athletes, of course, are reflective of society and we cannot deny the risks proposed by illicit drugs,” added Schwab.
“This challenge must be approached in a health and athlete centred way, and taking a player’s living from him or her is the antithesis of that.
“We are determined that the WADA code is reformed so that it doesn’t present such a grave and unnecessary threat to the health, well being and careers of players.
“Under the reforms which the WADA code review drafting team has proposed to take effect in 2021, a player in Kerem’s position would face a one month instead of a four year ban should he commit to rehabilitation.
“This is very positive, and if granted should be brought forward so that players do not have to complete unjust and unnecessary periods of suspension.”
Facing life in exile, Bulut said of his plight in an interview with FoxSports: “I want a little bit of hope, because I am really down and out at the moment.
“I am training myself, but there is only so much you can do when at the back of your mind you are thinking about a four-year ban.
“I can’t sleep at night. Football is the only thing I know.”
Under the proposed changes to be considered by WADA, Bulut would be able to argue the trace amounts detected were from recreational use, outside of sport.
Schwab, and his fellow advocates, want to see cocaine, in the interim, classified as a ‘specified substance’.
This adjustment to the current system would have seen Bulut face a maximum two-year ban under the current code, rather than the four imposed on him as a result of the classification as a ‘non-specified substance’.