By Cam Tucker, Vancouver Sun September 22, 2012
This summer, less than two weeks after the conclusion of the London 2012 Olympics, the sports world anxiously observed as Lance Arm-strong gave up his fight against allegations that he used banned substances.
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency accused Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven consecutive times after beating cancer, of taking performance-enhancing drugs. The Associated Press reported that 10 of Armstrong’s former teammates were willing to testify against him.
Even though it has never been proven that Armstrong used PED, he is the latest high-profile athlete to fall under the shroud of banned substances, and competitors in a wide range of sports and leagues now undergo standardized drug testing – some in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Agency, some not.
WADA lists at least 258 prohibited substances, and there are six categories – non-approved agents; anabolic agents; peptide hormones, growth factors and related sub-stances; beta-2 agonists; hormone and metabolic modulators; and diuretics and masking agents – in which the sub-stances are completely banned. Other substances may only be banned for in-competition, or certain sports, but not others.
Locally, there are six high-ranking professional and amateur sports teams belonging to six different leagues.
None of the six leagues they are affiliated with – National Hockey League, Western Hockey League, Major League Soccer, Canadian Football League, Major League Baseball (Northwest League short-sea-son Single-A in Vancouver) and Canadian Interuniversity Sport – are signatories of the WADA Code; therefore the anti-doping agency does not have jurisdiction over their drug testing methods, according to an email from Terence O’Rorke, senior manager for media relations and communications at WADA.
However, all the leagues base their list of banned substances on WADA policies.
NHL Vancouver Canucks
The NHL’s last collective bar-gaining agreement included a drug testing policy between the league and the NHL Players’ Association.
Before the 2012 lockout, players were required to take as many as three “no-notice” tests throughout a season, according to the Drug Testing Pro-gram Summary on the NHLPA website.
The testing, which includes only urine tests, was divided into three components: 10 teams were subject to one no-notice tests, 10 teams were subject to two no-notice tests and 10 teams were chosen for three no-notice test.
The program does not indicate how teams are selected for the number of no-notice tests.
Attempts to contact the NHLPA were not returned.
Since the 2004-05 lockout, only one player has been suspended for a failed drug test.
The league suspended former New York Islanders defence-man Sean Hill during the 2007 Stanley Cup playoffs, after he violated the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Hill, now 42, was in the twilight of his 17-year NHL career when he became the first player to violate the league’s drug policy. He received a 20-game ban, but played one more season, joining the Minnesota Wild for the 2007-08 campaign.
Two other NHL players – defenceman Bryan Berard and goalie Jose Theodore – also tested positive for banned sub-stances. Berard was suspended from international competition for two years, but not from the NHL.
Despite a low number of positive tests, the NHL has been accused of being anything but clean.
Georges Laraque, a 12-year enforcer with the Edmonton Oilers, Phoenix Coyotes, Pitts-burgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens, wrote in his book, The Story of the NHL’s Unlikeliest Tough Guy, that the use of steroids in the NHL expanded beyond fighters to some of the best players in the league.
He did not mention any specific players.
WHL Vancouver Giants
The Western Hockey League, in coordination with the Canadian Hockey League, began testing for banned substances for the 2006-07 season.
“All players in the Quebec, Ontario and Western Hockey Leagues are required to participate in the CHL anti-doping program,” said WHL commissioner Ron Robison.
Tests – both from blood and urine – are completely random, and are administered by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.
Last year, three junior hockey players tested positive for banned substances under WADA.
Prince George Cougars for-ward Spencer Asuchak tested positive for methylhexaneam-ine, a stimulant that can be found in numerous pre-work-out supplements and is listed under WADA’s prohibited list.
The Prince George Citizen reported that Asuchak had been taking Razor 8, which contained the banned substance. The pre-workout powder can be found at supplement stores and online. He was suspended for eight games.
Two other players from the OHL – Alex Aleardi of the Plymouth Whalers and Ryan O’Connor of the Saginaw Spirit – also received eight-game suspensions for violating the CHL anti-doping policy earlier this year.
Because the league consists of players aged 16 to 20 who may be living away from home for the first time, team officials must provide players more education about what’s acceptable and not acceptable under WADA.
Players are required to go through an online seminar that provides a complete list of banned substances.
“A lot of kids want to gain weight, so steroids looks like a quick solution, and it’s really not, so we try to tell them what’s wrong,” said Vancouver Giants general manager Scott Bonner.
“The league has put in some teeth to it … so if they’re smoking marijuana, taking steroids, cheating the system and doing what’s basically a health risk, they’ll be caught (and) punished. The testing is what it is. I think the education part … I think it’s invaluable for us.”
CFL B.C. Lions
The CFL’s drug testing policy is the newest of all the six leagues that call Vancouver home.
The league began discussing testing for banned substances in 2007, and finally implemented an education program for players in 2010. Testing officially began in the 2011 sea-son, however, according to the league’s website, only 25 per cent of players were randomly tested last year.
That number has increased to 35 per cent for 2012, and will remain steady for next season.
Tests include urine and blood and are done year round.
The suspension process includes four different disciplinary measures, each for the number of violations.
A first-time offender will be subject to mandatory testing, a personal assessment and has the option for counselling. “The goal is to change the player’s behaviour in the best interests of the game and his own health,” says the website.
Second-time offenders will be suspended three games and have their offence made public. A third violation nets the player a one-year suspension, while the fourth and final act results in banishment from the league. Jordan Matechuk, long-snap-per for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats wasn’t suspended because of a positive drug test, but he was arrested on May 31 of last year, when he was caught at the Canada/U.S. border with 543 anabolic steroid pills, 262 millilitres of anabolic steroids in liquid form, 1.25 grams of marijuana and syringes and replacement needles.
Matechuk, who pleaded guilty to possession of steroids and marijuana last September and served 60 days in jail, is now a long-snapper for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER Vancouver Whitecaps
MLS, which the Vancouver Whitecaps have been a part of for the past two seasons, has been in operation since 1996, and had been testing players since before the MLS Players Union formed in 2003.
According to a 2005 report from MLSPU executive director Bob Foose to U.S. House Energy and Commerce Sub-committee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, players are not only required to be tested by their MLS clubs, but also their international teams under FIFA. Players are tested for both banned substances and recreational drugs, and are required to submit to urine tests, as well as blood tests under FIFA.
Players must go through random testing once a year, as well as possible for-cause testing, “in which players may … exhibit behaviour indicating the use of a prohibited sub-stance,” said the report, which opposed H.R. 1862, a bill put before U.S. Congress in 2005 that proposed a two-year ban for first-time offenders.
A mandatory test must also be taken for players who have failed drug tests in the past.
The MLS and MLSPU agreed to a new CBA in 2010; it will expire in 2014.
A MLSPU spokesperson said there are no new changes for drug testing in the new CBA, other than WADA’s updated list of banned substances.
There have been three notable MLS suspensions for using banned substances since 2008. New York Red Bulls’ Jon Conway and Jeff Parke were banned 10 games and fined 10 per cent of their respective salaries for testing positive for banned substances in 2008.
Last year, Columbus Crew defender Josh Williams was suspended 10 games and fined $4,200 for testing positive for an unspecified performance-enhancing drug purchased in an over-the-counter supplement, according to ESPN Los Angeles. “Players are under strict instructions that if you are taking a supplement or any-thing that you have any questions about, to clear it with our trainers, who have a list of the fully cleared medications and supplements,” said Whitecaps midfielder John Thorrington, the club’s representative for the player’s union.
He added that doctors will meet with every team across the league before the beginning of the regular season to educate players on what supplements are acceptable, and what could land a positive test.
MLB Vancouver Canadians
Perhaps no North American sports league has been more publicly chastised for use of banned substances and steroids than Major League Baseball.
Most recently, New York Yankees star second baseman Robinson Cano denied rumours that, according to MLB.com, “he was about to be hit with a 50-game suspension for a performance-enhancing drug violation.”
Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays and Vancouver Canadians may also be familiar with pitcher Marcus Stroman, who in August was suspended 50 games for a drug violation.
He tested positive for methyl-hexaneamine while playing for the Canadians, the Northwest League champs for a second straight year, this summer.
“Despite taking precautions to avoid violating the Minor League testing program, I unknowingly ingested a banned stimulant that was in an over-the-counter supplement,” said Stroman in a statement issued by the Blue Jays.
“Nonetheless, I accept full responsibility and I want to apologize to the Toronto Blue Jays organization, my family, my teammates, and the Blue Jays fans everywhere. I look for-ward to putting this behind me and rejoining my teammates.”
According to MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, players undergo urine testing upon reporting for spring training, as well as an “announced urine specimen collection on a randomly selected date.”
In addition to spring training tests, up to 1,400 urine tests collections during both the regular season and off-season.
Blood tests – random at the beginning of spring training, “reasonable cause” testing and off-season collections – to find human growth hormone are also conducted. Blood tests are restricted only to the use of HGH, says the treatment program.
CANADIAN INTERUNIVERSITY SPORT
There are seven universities in British Columbia – two from the Fraser Valley, one from Vancouver Island, two from the Interior, one from the Cariboo and one from Vancouver – in Canada West and its governing body CIS.
The CIS first adopted the Canadian Anti-Doping Program in 2008, before it took effect the following year. The WADA list of banned substances is employed by the CADP, and the CIS runs its testing through the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.
According to the CIS website, “approximately” one in 25 athletes is tested each year.
The process occurs randomly. Athletes are subject to event, in-competition and out-of-competition testing through the academic year.
There are 10,000 student-athletes across the country, which means roughly 400 athletes may be tested.
“I think in an ideal world, anyone would like to see more testing occur, but we have to be balanced against the budgets that are available,” said Tom Huisman, director of operations for CIS.
Dating back to 1990-91, there have been 75 total drug violations recorded – 73 by men, and two by women – in CIS, from everything to marijuana and cocaine to methylhexaneamine.
Football has accounted for 85 per cent of drug violations over the last 22 years, with 64.
The CIS was rocked in 2010 by a steroid scandal involving the University of Waterloo football team, in which the pro-gram was suspended one year after nine players were found to have used banned sub-stances, and another player, Nathan Zettler, was charged with possession and trafficking of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone.
The CFL has partnered with the CCES to help fund testing for 80 CIS prospects entering the CFL’s evaluation and Canadian Draft, The explanations for why some student-athletes feel the need to use banned substances are numerous, but perplexing at the same time.
“I think the reasons and rationales are very unique and individual,” said Huisman, “from body image, to wanting to make the next step, to inadvertent doping, whatever the case may be.”
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