"You are responsible for anything that goes into your body," warns UEFA anti-doping and medical coordinator Richard Grisdale during his anti-doping talks in Malta.
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Every player participating in the UEFA European Under-17 Championship in Malta has been warned of the dangers of doping.
The eight squads taking part in the finals have been made aware of how big a risk doping can present if some simple guidelines are not followed. "This is to stop you making silly mistakes and ruining your career," said Richard Grisdale, UEFA's anti-doping and medical coordinator. "Now you are representing your country, this is an important topic that you need to know about. If it is in your body, you are responsible."
Grisdale, who reinforced UEFA's zero-tolerance stance, warned the players of a duty and obligation they have not only to themselves, but also to their team-mates, clubs and national teams.
"You can't blame somebody else," he added. "If you have a banned substance in your body, it doesn't tell me why. It doesn't tell me you made a mistake: it just says you tested positive. I have to assume the worst – you took it deliberately, to cheat."
Not only was it emphasised how doping is cheating, but also how it can have long-term consequences for a player's health. Some substances found on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) List of Prohibited Substances and Methods – adhered to by UEFA – can even be found in over-the-counter medicines and vitamin supplements. Some may not even be listed as ingredients, but that cannot be an excuse.
"If you are not sure, ask your team doctor," Grisdale said. "Anything that goes into your body, you are responsible for. Take this responsibility – it's your body, your career. If you test positive, you will get banned. It will be your career that will be shortened."
A video of UEFA's anti-doping operations at UEFA EURO 2012 outlined the procedure employed in taking samples and testing. Some players in Malta can expect to be tested at some stage of the tournament, which is why they have to be aware of the process involved. "It could take a long time for you to produce a sample as you will be dehydrated, so you will need to be patient," continued Grisdale.
UEFA has been educating players at youth tournaments annually since 2005, with talks aimed at raising awareness and preventing potentially career-damaging repercussions. "Use your head, but don't worry," said Grisdale. "Around 99% of footballers have never had any problems. Be sensible and you will be OK. Football is the most popular sport in the world and we all love it. The moment it is linked with doping and cheating, people will become interested in something else."