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Sports

Germany's Young Athletes Learn to Say No to Doping

A new generation of top teenage German athletes are getting professional guidance from the National Anti-Doping Agency. The program uses various methods to promote the principle "I am clean."

A lab assistant examines a sample

Traces from a joint from passive smoking can be detected in laboratory samples

Doping in professional sports has become so ubiquitous that substance abuse is lurking in the background of each new world record that gets broken.

The aim of the National Anti-Doping Agency's (NADA) prevention program is to eradicate any thought of consuming illegal substances under the motto "Solidarity against doping -- I am clean."

NADA regularly visits all 39 elite German sports schools, stretching from the north-eastern seaport of Rostock to Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps bordering on Austria, to get across its message of fair play and inform athletes of the hazards of drug abuse.

Awareness of doping pitfalls

Ulrike Spitz, deputy director of NADA, said it is vital to discuss the pitfalls of doping with young people.

Cycling race in France with bikers wearing helmets

Cycling has been one professional sport riddled with doping scandals

"A new generation of athletes need to grow up fully aware of the consequences of doping. It's not just a matter of being eliminated from competition if discovered. Aside from the health risks, funding can be cut, for example, and the athletes won't be nominated for the Olympics," she said.

"We have to make it clear to them that the right path is the clean one," added Spitz.

Which begs the question: What exactly is "clean"? Which substances are illegal or forbidden?

Graphic images of health risks

Some young people have already experimented with illegal drugs. But that traces of a joint from passive smoking or digesting a piece of poppy seed cake can be detected in a doping test is news to many.

However, it's the stark photos of health damage that makes them stop in their tracks.

"It not enough to tell them that erythropoietin will thicken one's blood to the point of bringing them to the brink of death. That's too abstract. But graphic images of prickled skin or enlarged male breasts have shock value," said Spitz.

Top athletes as role models

When that's not enough, professional athletes step in to act as role models for teenagers and go on tour with NADA officials.

World handball champion Stefan Schroeder, 27, once had a doping problem and recounts his struggles to younger athletes.

A group of students sit on the floor in the gym at the elite sports school in Cologne

NADA promotes its anti-doping message in all 39 top sports schools in Germany

"It's vital that young people are well-informed so that they don't fall into the doping trap in the first place," he said.

"Then they can be calm when they take the first urine test. They shouldn't be surprised when someone looks over their shoulder while they're going to the bathroom," he added.

Wary of prescription medicine

The teenagers also have experiences of their own to relate. Natalia Cukseeva, an 18-year-old professional volleyball player from Hamburg said she pays attention when a physician prescribes medicine for her.

"When I had a sports injury, I wound up getting just about every kind of painkiller. Since I wasn't sure, I didn't take anything that wasn't on the approved drug list," she said.

NADA gets top marks with the youngsters. Levke Springer, an 18-year-old beach volleyball player, said she was glad she took part in the program with her fellow boarding schoolmates.

"I found it interesting to get an inside look at how top professional athletes deal with doping issues and checks," said Springer.

"It's important that fairness in sports is encouraged," she said.

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