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"If in doubt, ask" – that is the anti-doping message being passed on by UEFA to all eight teams at the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship finals in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Each side has attended one-hour sessions designed to give them a full rundown of the anti-doping issue, including the dangers of consuming banned substances to both a player's career and health, what constitutes an anti-doping violation and how anti-doping procedures are implemented for players involved in UEFA competition.
The presentations have been held at all UEFA youth tournaments since 2005, with Dr Mogens Kreutzfeldt from the UEFA anti-doping panel and Richard Grisdale of UEFA's anti-doping unit leading the sessions in Skopje.
After a general introduction, the players and team staff are shown a video detailing how anti-doping procedures were applied at UEFA EURO 2008, the benchmark for all future UEFA tournaments. Grisdale then discussesd the importance of anti-doping regulations. "We're trying to keep the game clean, so that you know the teams you're playing against aren't cheating," he said, as Scotland got the ball rolling with the first lecture.
He and Dr Kreutzfeldt are nonetheless eager to emphasise that very few players caught taking prohibited substances are actually trying to improve their performances. Statistics published by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) showed that of the 78 positive samples collected from 33,445 tests throughout world football in 2008, only 7% contained anabolic steroids – whereas 60% contained recreational drugs.
Players also risk a suspension for ingesting outlawed substances sometimes found in medicine or food supplements. "If you have a cold, you have to check before taking medicine," said Dr Kreutzfeldt. "It may be OK for normal people to just take it, but not for you because you are top-level athletes.
"If you test positive, we cannot tell if you took some cough syrup or tablets to improve performance. The message from us is: always check with your doctor. Even if you take nutritional supplements, you can have trouble. It's easy to make a mistake, but you will always get a sanction."
"If it's in your body, you're responsible for it," added Grisdale. But while the warning is clear, the presentations also stress that anonymity is central to anti-doping procedures, that the players are informed of their rights as well as duties at every step of the way.
"We want to make sure everything is done correctly," said Dr Kreutzfeldt afterwards. "These sessions communicate that and they've been a great success. We've now presented them to thousands of youth players. The feedback has been good from all the teams."
That was certainly the case among the Scotland players at the Sport Hall Boris Trajkovski. "I learnt a lot about all different kinds of things – all the sorts of banned substances that maybe I didn't know about," said goalkeeper Lee Alexander. "It's good to know the ins and outs of taking responsibility and knowing what you're taking on board if you've got a cold or something like that."
Her team-mate Chloe Fitzpatrick also appreciated the talk. "Our team doctor has been keeping us informed about what we are and aren't allowed, so we were aware of quite a lot of it, but it's given us more information," she said.
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