Players taking part in the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship in Nyon have been informed of the perils and pitfalls of doping, and warned not to jeopardise their careers
The four participating nations in the finals – Germany, Denmark, France and Switzerland – attended a talk at UEFA headquarters, where Richard Grisdale from UEFA's anti-doping unit explained how doping is one of the biggest threats to a long and successful career. "Doping is cheating, everybody knows that," explained Grisdale. "Respect your team-mates, but most of all respect yourself. You don't want to win knowing you have cheated. You are now playing for your countries, you are at the top level, and this is a very important subject."
Some of the players in action in Nyon this week will experience a doping test for the first time, and Grisdale said that it is something they are going to have to get used to. "I know you don't want to do it, but be patient," he said after showing the players a video of anti-doping controls carried out at UEFA EURO 2008, a tournament which is now used as a benchmark for UEFA's highly successful anti-doping activities.
An anecdote of a high-profile player's animated reluctance to take part in a statutory control lightened the atmosphere, but the grim reality of his punishment soon brought things back into focus. "I love football, you love football, the whole world loves football and we don't want football to be ruined by doping," continued Grisdale. "You have to know about it, and doping is often a mistake, not deliberate. It could see you banned for two years – and your career could be ruined."
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lays out the rules and publishes lists of banned substances each year. The list applies to every sport, not just football, but what WADA does not do is endorse any product. "If you find a product which says they do, then it is a lie," warned Grisdale. "It is more likely that it does contain a prohibited product."
So how do top-level footballers safely adhere to the rules, even if they are just seeking to cure a chesty cough, or even trying to lose weight or promote hair growth? Many prohibited substances can be found in everyday, over-the-counter drugs and while one brand may be safe, another product with similar packaging can contain a prohibited substance. "First and foremost, check with your club doctor, or even consult with WADA or UEFA," advised Grisdale, who emphasised that ignorance is not an option. "Ultimately, you are responsible. You are elite athletes now, you are playing for your country, so take responsibility."
That responsibility also extends to the players' conduct away from the training ground or the stadium. "60% of all positive tests in football are due to cannabis or cocaine," revealed Grisdale, touching on the dangers of recreational drugs. "Maybe they are not thinking about their next match, they have a joint or two, then a couple of weeks later, a test is positive." The body takes a particularly long time to work off such drugs and the message is clear: "Don't even try them."
Avoiding the pitfalls starts with a conscientious, professional attitude. All doping products have side-effects and are generally bad for your health. "So first of all, think whether you need it in the first place," stressed Grisdale. "Long-term doping can reduce life expectancy by decades and that is not what sport is about."
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