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UEFA anti-doping summit issues call to 'catch the cheats'

UEFA's first Anti-Doping Symposium, held in London, has provided a platform to analyse developments in the campaign to rid football and other sports of doping.

Delegates from a wide variety of backgrounds attended the symposium
Delegates from a wide variety of backgrounds attended the symposium ©UEFA

We must protect clean athletes – and catch the cheats. A clear message conveyed at the first UEFA Anti-Doping Symposium in London.

More than 150 delegates from Europe, North America and Asia joined UEFA for presentations and discussions centring on a detailed analysis of the current situation in the fight to keep football free of doping.

Topics included the evolution of the anti-doping campaign over the past 15 years, the lessons learned and various challenges currently being faced, and issues to be addressed in the future.

UEFA came together with the Swiss University of Neuchâtel (UNINE) and the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) Commentary to organise the event at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The organising committee comprised Angelo Rigopoulos (UEFA), Michele Bernasconi (Court of Arbitration for Sport arbitrator), Antonio Rigozzi (professor, University of Neuchâtel - UNINE) and Emily Wisnosky (WADC Commentary Project).

Speakers included not only anti-doping experts and delegates from international sports federations, but also representatives of the legal and scientific worlds, criminologists, educational experts and athletes themselves.

UEFA is recognised as one of the world's leading team-sport organisations in the fight against doping, and the organisation continually strives to ensure that its education and testing programmes remain at the cutting edge of science and recognised good practice in all areas of prevention and detection.

The symposium heard that the fight against doping had increased in complexity over the years. "Due to doping becoming more sophisticated, new rules and programmes were required to face this development," Angelo Rigopoulos, who is UEFA's managing director of integrity and regulatory, told the symposium.

Delegates discussed whether the current legal framework served as an effective deterrent against drug-taking in football, and whether the real cheats were being caught, or only those who inadvertently committed offences. The WADA Code was also designed to serve as a deterrent, in that standard sanctions for an anti-doping rule violation have increased in every edition of the Code since it was introduced in 2003.

The symposium heard a survey of football doping cases, which showed that most cases are related to recreational drugs or unintentional doping brought about by, among others, contamination of nutritional substances.

The need was clear for reinforced activity to find and punish those who were taking drugs intentionally to enhance their performance.

It was agreed that education programmes, particularly for young athletes, formed a key element of any organisation's anti-doping programme.

UEFA, the symposium heard, was at the forefront of the education movement, holding awareness sessions for players and establishing learning programmes for players and doctors. European football's governing body has also introduced a reporting platform designed to encourage players and team staff to report their doping suspicions.

UEFA encourages anyone who has witnessed an anti-doping rule violation being committed, or who has reasonable grounds to believe that doping has taken place in football, to come forward in a confidential and secure way to report their information.

A study was also presented showing prevalence in doping, providing statistical data that can assist organisations in improving intelligence testing as well as, potentially, elements that can be used in the collection of reliable means in a disciplinary case.

Whereabouts information has also become an integral element of all sports' anti-doping programmes. Such information must be provided in order for out-of-competition doping control programmes to function effectively.

Caroline Thom, UEFA's integrity legal manager, specifically highlighted UEFA's whereabouts programme, which requires all teams that are part of UEFA's testing pool to submit training and whereabouts information for their players.

The whereabouts programme, delegates were informed, ensures that all players make themselves available for no-notice doping controls, thus limiting opportunities for players to dope undetected.

"We have designed a whereabouts system based on team whereabouts that fits football," Caroline Thom said. "It is practical and efficient, and allows us to get the whereabouts information on every player of the team every day of the week – and therefore fulfils the requirements under the WADA Code. Also, we share the team whereabouts with relevant national anti-doping organisations [NADOs]."

Angelo Rigopoulos underlined the necessity for all those involved in the campaign to banish doping from football to never rest on their laurels, nor lose sight of their overall mission.

"It is important," he emphasised, "not to lose the goal and objective that we want to reach – to protect clean athletes and to ensure the game is fair, by catching those who want to cheat."