The learning experience for the teams at the UEFA European Women's Under-19 Championship is not just on the pitch. For the first time at a female tournament, all eight squads have been given a one-hour talk on the dangers of doping - intentional and unintentional - by UEFA.
Marc Vouillamoz, head of the anti-doping unit, led the talks along with UEFA anti-doping panel member Dr Mogens Kreutzfeldt. Players were shown a DVD containing testimonies from leading players past and present and a 'day in the life' of a doping tester at the 2005 UEFA Cup final, and were given a handbook which they were encouraged to keep in their kit bags. They were also directed to details of UEFA's anti-doping activities on uefa.com - including a list of forbidden products, Therapeutic Use Exemption forms, UEFA's anti-doping regulations, FAQ and additional information in seven languages. For the information in English, click here.
The sessions, now given at all UEFA under-age tournaments, began at last year's UEFA European Under-19 Championship. "We have always had a very positive response," Vouillamoz told uefa.com. "Coaches and associations are grateful to UEFA for organising these sessions. This is not usually done at national level and even if it is, they appreciate UEFA doing this as it gives more power to the message."
Not only are players given a list of banned substances and instructions on the testing procedure - doping controls are taking place at the tournament in Switzerland - but are also told of the dangers of giving a positive test by accident. "We hope they understand the risk of using prohibited substances, and that unintentional doping is a risk," Vouillamoz warned. "[Banned substances] can be contained in normal medicine from a pharmacy or what a doctor will prescribe." Consequently, communication with team doctors at this level is vital.
Indeed, the only two positive tests involving women's footballers in Europe last year were 'accidents', where players failed to apply for official exemption to take medication which contained banned substances. Vouillamoz said: "They were suffering from asthma and they did not declare it. If they had done so before the competition, they would have received an exemption certificate, and there would have been no problem." Awareness about the need to register medical problems is increasing. "We can observe a steady increase in requests for certificates; in 2004 there were 75, the next year 400 and this year we have reached 600," Vouillamoz added. If one should need to take a substance on the banned list established by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), there is a form requesting exemption - click here.
Of course, deliberate doping is uncommon. Out of around 1,500 tests carried out by UEFA last year, including 423 out of competition, there were only seven positives, four for recreational drugs at youth level, the two asthma examples and one "hard" doping case. However, there is no complacency, and there are now plans to involve even younger players in the education process. Vouillamoz said: "We are developing a programme for youngsters up to the age of 13, so we have to develop a package accessible to this age frame. We will develop a tool for coaches, as not all clubs have team doctors. So we will simplify the message for coaches to disseminate to players. The grassroots programme will also be involved."
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