Footballers, either budding youngsters or seasoned professionals, are being given the constant word that taking drugs and trying to illegally enhance performance will cost them dearly – and perhaps cost them their careers.
The recent signing of a charter by the 16 team doctors of the UEFA EURO 2012 national sides in Warsaw – pledging to back UEFA's mission for a drug-free tournament in Poland and Ukraine – was the latest event in what has become a tireless campaign by UEFA to emphasise that drugs and doping have no place in the sport.
UEFA and its associations are united in telling footballers young and old: it is their body, their responsibility, their career. "The charter is a symbol of our commitment," said Alan Byrne, team doctor of the Republic of Ireland, who signed the charter on behalf of his national association. "If you look at doping in general, I suppose you all want to play on a level playing field, that's the first issue – no one likes cheating, and doping is cheating."
For UEFA EURO 2012, the team doctors have promised in the charter to support UEFA's strategy by ensuring that their teams' players and staff are appropriately educated on anti-doping issues – and that doping in all forms will not be tolerated within the teams. The message is being delivered to players at every level that taking drugs is a stupid way either to harm a promising career or to nip a fully-fledged career in the bud. "We spend a lot of time talking to youth coaches in Ireland about their role in terms of educating their players, young players, about anti-doping issues," he told UEFA.com.
Byrne says that footballers owe it not only to themselves but also to the fans – particularly young enthusiasts – to promote a serious warning about the dangers of doping. "Footballers are role models for young people," he reflected, "and I think we owe it to sport and society that we want a drug-free sport and to extrapolate that into society."
The EURO team doctors are aware of their major responsibility in helping prevent drug-taking in football and other sports – as well as in society at large. "The charter is a declaration by all the team doctors to uphold the anti-doping ethos of UEFA and football in general," said Byrne. "We are putting our name, as medical advisers, to that charter to support UEFA's position."
In addition to signing the charter, the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) has been diligent in its advice to players who will be contesting EURO glory in Poland and Ukraine this summer. "The FAI spoke to the players two weeks ago at the last international, in a seminar advising them about the whole anti-doping issue," Byrne explained .
"They're very familiar with it, but it is still worthwhile emphasising. I always feel that we need to keep the message out there, particularly for younger players coming into the sport. I think we all know it's common sense and all we're doing is formalising it by signing the charter."
UEFA's anti-doping drive has been bearing fruit for a number of years now: the European body conducts drug tests in all its competitions, and any player involved in a UEFA competition may be required not only to undergo a doping control after a match but also to undergo out-of-competition controls.
Young players in particular are vulnerable to the dangers of drug-taking. Consequently, UEFA holds educational sessions for the participating teams at its men's and women's youth championships. The players are made aware, for example, that more than 30,000 doping controls take place in football worldwide each year, with 60% of positive tests being for recreational substances such as cannabis and cocaine.
The risks from taking common medicines and food supplements are also underlined – given that either can contain banned substances. During the 2010/11 season, more than 1,800 players were tested in UEFA competitions. These included 742 players tested in the UEFA Champions League (441 of them tested out of competition), 560 players in the UEFA Europa League, and over 500 in other competitions including futsal, women and youth tournaments.
The fact that in 2010/11 only two positive cases were registered shows that such cases might be few and far between – but the fact remains that one positive case is one too many.
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