The shorter life expectancy of American football players, cakes that can get you banned and the dangers of cough medicine ... just three of the nuggets of information illuminating the anti-doping education session at the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in the Czech Republic.
All eight teams took part in the hour-long session comprising power-point presentations from both the chairman and the manager of UEFA's anti-doping unit, Dr Jacques Liénard and Caroline Thom. The session was timely, in a sporting week where riders were expelled from the Tour de France and a British athlete failed to overturn a lifetime Olympics ban.
What is doping?
Anti-doping education has featured at UEFA's underage tournaments, including the U21s, since 2005. This session began with the question: What is doping? Doping, Caroline Thom explained, extends as far as an athlete's refusal to take a test. A first violation can lead to a ban of two years. Even misconduct during a doping control, eg lack of respect towards a Doping Control Officer (DCO), can provoke a sanction.
Because doping is cheating and a health risk to footballers, UEFA is dedicated to fighting it. However, the players were reminded by Thom that they are the ones responsible for anything in their bodies – and that they should be mindful of this, since they can be tested both in competition, ie post match, or out of competition, even on holiday. At the U19 Championship, three agencies were entitled to test players: the Czech national anti-doping agency, the teams' own national anti-doping agency, plus UEFA.
The good news is that the anti-doping message is getting through. Where seven positive cases were registered in UEFA's underage, futsal and women's final rounds in 2005/06, only three such findings occurred in 2006/07. Of these latter findings, two were for cannabis, heralding a two-month ban, and one for an anabolic steroid causing a one-year suspension. The seniors have set an example, with all blood and urine samples taken at UEFA EURO 2008™ giving negative results.
Dr Jacques Liénard talked the audience through the mechanics of an in-competition doping control. The players themselves pour the urine from a plastic cup into bottles for A and B samples. Key to any successful procedure is that they check the paperwork – it is particularly important to list any medication taken in the preceding months. Here, players have to be completely open with officials. The paperwork includes a box to tick for Therapeutic Used Exemption (TUE).
To treat a pathology, footballers can apply for a TUE if they require something on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited list, eg insulin for diabetics. One international player has a TUE after kidney treatment. WADA's list of prohibited substances, updated every January, applies to all sports.
One such substance, the stimulant ephedrine, can be found in seemingly harmless medicines like cough syrup. Food supplements may contain anabolic, or pre-hormonal, ingredients. Traces of stanozonol, the substance which brought about sprinter Ben Johnson's demise, can be traced in multivitamins, possibly due to contamination in factories. Even poppy cakes may prompt a positive test for morphine. So players are urged to be vigilant and to consult fully with their doctors.
The dangers of performance-enhancing drugs were made clear. Sudden deaths certainly caused by the abuse of prohibited substances such as amphetamines, have occurred in the Tour de France and other top-level competitions. Life expectancy in American football is an average of 58. Side effects of doping include prostate problems, shrinking testicles, even breast development. All irreversible consequences. Nor could there be any excuse for taking recreational drugs: traces of cannabis can remain in urine for up to 60 days; players have tested positive for both cannabis and cocaine.
Just say no
The education session ended with a video message – 'just say no to drugs' – from such football luminaries as Paolo Maldini, Michael Laudrup, Henrik Larsson and UEFA President Michel Platini. Finally, the players watched a filmed doping control from the 2005 UEFA Cup final in Lisbon, enabling them to observe the work of a DCO. By then they had got the picture.
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