FA launches drive to educate players against drug abuse

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The Independent Online

A fresh initiative aimed at combating the threat of the "designer steroid" THG and other illegal supplements has been set up by the Football Association.

A fresh initiative aimed at combating the threat of the "designer steroid" THG and other illegal supplements has been set up by the Football Association. The brainchild of Alan Hodson, the FA's head of sports medicine, the £50,000 drug-busting drive covers all 92 professional clubs and has the full backing of the Professional Footballers' Association and UK Sport, which runs the FA's anti-doping programme.

With the FA poised to charge Rio Ferdinand over his missed drugs test and the game still reeling from the news that two more professional players have tested positive ­ one for cocaine, the other for ecstasy ­ it is hoped that the latest campaign will increase awareness among players of the dangers of taking unlicensed food products.

Although the two recent positive tests ­ revealed last week and involving lower-league players ­ are of some concern to the FA, its medical staff are far more worried about the possible effect on the game of THG.

The sprinter Dwain Chambers tested positive for the previously undetectable designer steroid, for which professional footballers may also soon be screened. Every professional club, academy and centre of excellence has been sent a card listing all food supplements which may contain illegal substances, together with an educational pamphlet entitled Use And Abuse Of Supplements, with more detailed information on potentially suspicious dietary aids.

"Every dressing-room should now be aware of the consequences of ingesting certain food supplements, and players should not take anything unless they first check with the club's medical officer," Hodson said. "Many food supplements may contain prohibited substances in tiny amounts that may not necessarily be on the label and we are trying to do everything possible to make players aware of this.

"THG is just the latest. There are going to be more and more coming out that are undetectable, so my message is not to take anything ­ even if the bottle says it doesn't contain anything illegal."

Hodson added that in his 14 years of working with the FA, there had only ever been one case of a player testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, unlike in other sports such as athletics and cycling, where drug abuse has been a major problem. "One positive in 7,000 tests is a pretty good record but it's mainly because of education," he said. "There are problems in football across Europe with nandrolone and other prohibited substances because more and more players are looking for the edge. We must therefore continue to be proactive and warn our players of the dangers. Because more and more European players and managers are coming over and we are adopting European methods, we have to make sure that we don't get complacent."

UK Sport's director of drug-free sport, Michele Verroken, said the FA initiative would help educate players about which supplements were safe and which were potentially illegal.

As the FA considers what, if any, charges to press against Ferdinand, Verroken admitted lessons may have to be learned if it is established that the testers themselves were at fault by allowing Ferdinand to leave the club's training ground on 23 September without undergoing the required procedure.