A key aim of any anti-doping programme is to target those who are young and may be susceptible to the perils of taking drugs. UEFA has been hard at work this week impressing on the players in the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship final round that doping does not work.
The latest of the education sessions - which take place at every European youth competition final round - was held at the four teams' hotel in Morges, close to UEFA's home town of Nyon, which has staged the tournament. UEFA's stance on the issue is unequivocal - doping will be punished severely and there is a possible ban of two years for a first offence.
Impressed with UEFA
"I think it's extremely important especially with these athletes at this age group," said Dr Imtiaz Ahmad, England's team doctor at the event. "I think education really is the key, and I have been impressed with UEFA firstly for organising the [anti-doping] meeting, and also for organising another meeting with all the doctors from each of the countries. Education for the doctors and for the players is important in this matter. We have our own sessions and workshops for players and it is good to have that reinforced on a wider level by UEFA."
The detailed explanation of UEFA's in-competition doping procedure guides the players from the moment they are told that they are required for a doping control, to how a sample is collected and then the documentation that has to be completed, among other things. Prohibited substances are highlighted and a warning is given to players that common medicines can contain prohibited substances, and that the sanctions remain the same.
The importance of caution regarding food supplements has also been pressed home at the sessions, stressing the dangers of contamination and the problems connected with recreational drugs. There is a serious health risk if players take illegal substances, while certain medicines are permitted in the event of illness or injury with a therapeutic use exemption certificate, provided the correct protocol is followed.
The sessions have concluded with a reminder of how UEFA has stepped up its anti-doping drive in recent years, in particular in introducing out-of-competition controls for the 32 teams in the UEFA Champions League and more in-competition tests than ever in 2006/07. The players have been informed of all the people who can answer any questions they might have, and have been given details of uefa.com's Training Ground educational section which contains a detailed anti-doping section promoted by Ronaldinho with the message: "Be clean - be part of my team."
What advice would Dr Ahmed give to players embarking on their career? "I would just say be very, very careful with whatever medication you take. Always try and speak to your club physio or your club doctor. If you are unsure, just write an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and you will get a reply within 24 hours. I think at this level, often the problem is with over-the-counter medication that players are not sure about or unaware that they may contain substances that are illegal."
And what points will Dr Imtiaz take back as a team doctor? "The first thing is personal responsibility for each player. The doctors and the coaches obviously have a massive role, but if each player can take the personal responsibility to either check the website or to contact us at the association or to contact their own club doctor, I think it is really important to get that message across. Sometimes that message is left behind. The players have the responsibility to learn about the potential dangers and this is really important."
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