Canada drug testing on the decline

Drug testing on decline; Fewer today than before the UW steroid scandal, says school’s athletic director

Waterloo Region Record  Wed Sep 12 2012

By: Christine Rivet, Record staff

A significant reduction in drug tests conducted this year may undermine efforts to clean up Canadian university football, says the University of Waterloo‘s athletic director.

“Research shows you need testing as a deterrent. It is very frustrating this has become a funding issue,” said UW’s Bob Copeland, a tireless clean-sport advocate.

Of the 500 annual tests recommended by a national task force to be conducted on Canadian Interuniversity Sport football players, only about 100 will be carried out this year, Canada’s anti-doping watchdog confirmed.

And of those 100 tests, 66 have already been performed on football players at this spring’s teamwide testing at Bishop’s University in Quebec.

Copeland said that means the remaining number of tests in 2012 is fewer than what was conducted before UW’s steroid scandal.

Back in March 2010, unannounced drug testing of UW’s football Warriors revealed nine flunked tests, including North America’s first athlete to test positive for human growth hormone.

It marked the largest amount of doping infractions found on a Canadian team in history.

And so, the UW incident prompted the creation of that national task force, which made 45 recommendations. Many of those have not yet been implemented, including a hotline to report suspected cheaters and beefed-up sanctions.

“There are a lot of people on the right side of this issue. But my greatest fear is (the fight against performance-enhancing drugs) does not remain top of mind,” said Copeland, a task force member.

Since Waterloo‘s scandal, drug cheats have been nabbed from several of Canadian university football teams including McGill, Windsor, Acadia, Laval, the University of Montreal and Bishop’s.

While all Canadian Interuniversity Sport athletes are subject to random testing, football players have accounted for the vast majority of the federation’s positive tests, or about 85 per cent, since samples were first collected in 1990.

Critics have argued it was the university federation’s lax anti-doping policies that laid the foundation for cheating in football in the first place.

Back in 2009, about 89 Canadian university football players were tested by the centre, with no positive results.

This year, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport was forced to funnel more resources away from university athletes and into drug testing for Canada’s Olympians and Paralympians, said the centre’s president and CEO Paul Melia.

The reduced number of tests conducted on Canadian university football players also troubles him, said Melia, who helped lead the anti-doping task force in 2011.

“It’s not enough of a presence. But it’s not the case that CIS athletes can dope with impunity,” said Melia.

“We are still going to be testing, but we have a finite budget and testing is getting more expensive.”

Melia acknowledged no-notice team testing proved a deterrent for cheaters in university football. But with each player’s test approaching $800, that model is not financially sustainable.

“Target” testing, using data gleaned from outside sources and from Canadian customs officials, will be more cost-effective, Melia said.

The centre will also continue to look at cost-sharing options for drug tests with Canada’s universities and for corporate sponsors to fund testing, he said.

The CFL currently funds drug testing – up to $40,000 yearly – for 80 of the league’s top prospects from Canadian university teams as a direct result of UW’s steroid scandal.

Meanwhile, Canadian Interuniversity Sport plans to work in conjunction with the centre’s accredited labs to reduce the cost of tests for member schools, a federation spokesperson said Tuesday.

More than 20 years ago, Charles Dubin, who conducted an inquiry following Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson’s flunked drug test at the Seoul Olympics, recommended Canada target not only elite athletes, but younger athletes, in its anti-doping campaigns.

“That message is not getting through,” said Copeland. “This is not just an Olympic issue. It’s a broader health issue.”

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