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Implementing UEFA’s anti-doping education strategy: an expert insight

Bulgarian doping control officer Dr Zdravko Taralov explains how the HatTrick programme is helping UEFA safeguard the integrity of European football.

UEFA via Sportsfile

Dedicated UEFA HatTrick programme funding for anti-doping education activities has been available to national associations since 2021. Bulgarian doping control officer Dr Zdravko Taralov explains how that support is helping efforts to fulfil one of UEFA’s core responsibilities: safeguarding the integrity of European football.

“It’s so important that players’ first interaction with anti-doping is a positive one.”

Dr Zdravko Taralov, chief assistant professor at the Medical University of Plovdiv and UEFA doping control officer at the Bulgarian Football Union.

The words of Dr Zdravko Taralov perfectly illustrate the principles behind UEFA’s anti-doping education strategy. Dr Taralov is a chief assistant professor at the Medical University of Plovdiv’s department of pathophysiology, and has for the past few years been working as a UEFA doping control officer alongside the Bulgarian Football Union.

In cooperation with BUL-NADO, the Bulgarian national anti-doping organisation, Dr Taralov has been at the forefront of improving anti-doping education in Bulgarian football. “A few years ago, a survey among young Bulgarian footballers revealed that their level of anti-doping education wasn’t very high,” explains Dr Taralov. “Following that, we decided we needed to educate all our teams, from the juniors to the first team.”

Anti-doping education

Dr Taralov’s efforts have been boosted by the UEFA anti-doping education strategy. Launched in August 2021, the strategy offers up to €10,000 of targeted UEFA HatTrick programme funding to all 55 UEFA member associations. This funding supports anti-doping in sports education activities across European football.

Across the 2021/22 season, for example, the Bulgarian Football Union used the HatTrick money to adjust to the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The funding was used to run online webinar sessions for players and staff at training camps, introducing them to anti-doping procedures.

Dr Taralov stresses how important education is to anti-doping in sports. “UEFA wants to educate players before their first doping control test, which is an approach I really believe in.

“As a doping control officer (DCO), it’s far easier to take a sample from a player who has been educated in advance,” he says. “If their first interaction with anti-doping is a test, there is a lot of pressure. But, if they’ve already been informed, the process is much smoother. This UEFA HatTrick funding was a great opportunity to increase that level of knowledge.”

The role of doping control officers in football

Responsible for conducting all UEFA doping controls, DCOs such as Dr Taralov are a central cog in the roll-out of UEFA’s anti-doping strategy. To assist them, a comprehensive training programme is offered to new and existing DCOs. This is key to ensuring a uniformly high standard of anti-doping procedure across Europe.

“UEFA has educated and supported me. We have regular meetings where they present new procedures and changes in the regulations, and we receive communications on a regular basis.”

In Bulgaria and beyond, the positive impact is already being felt. “I’m very grateful to UEFA. With this funding we’ve managed to do more in one year than for many years previously,” says Dr Taralov. “Not only has UEFA provided funding, but educational materials and resources as well.

“Of course there have been some difficulties,” he adds, “but we’ve seen that this way of education works, and we’ve seen a high level of interest among players.”


The amount available to all 55 member associations under UEFA’s anti-doping education strategy.

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