Taylor Hooton Foundation > Hoot’s Corner > General > CFL: Lab boss slams lax CFL drug policy
June 15, 2015
CFL: Lab boss slams lax CFL drug policy
CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge was not available Friday to comment on drug-testing lab boss Christiane Ayotte’s concerns about the league’s lax drug policy.
The Canadian Football League’s lax drug policy is under fire again, this time from a world leader in the fight against doping. The head of the only lab in Canada accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency says she can’t in good conscience continue testing CFL samples. “We have had several positive findings and no athlete was ever suspended,” Christiane Ayotte told the Winnipeg Sun, Friday. “Which for me was unbearable. I could not continue without jeopardizing our reputation.” The CFL’s drug policy calls for nothing more than a quiet slap on the wrist for drug cheats caught the first time. Ayotte’s concern is the message that sends to university athletes who desperately want to crack a CFL roster. What’s more, she says the positive tests could be used to help players beat the system. “How do I know this data is not used by players to just know how long we can detect this or that anabolic steroid?” Ayotte said. “It’s a concern.” Ayotte first raised her concerns in a letter to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, the agency that overseas anti-doping programs in Canada, at the end of the 2014 CFL season. She decided to go public after reading the Winnipeg Sun story last month, which said the league’s lax policy was encouraging university athletes to juice up. In that story Darren Gill, a leading player agent, and University of Manitoba head coach Brian Dobie rang the alarm after five Canadian university players tested positive at the last CFL combine, up from one the year before. Three of the five were drafted and signed to professional contracts, while the one who failed a doping test in 2013 was a first-round pick and won the Grey Cup with Calgary. Ayotte has spent 30 years as the head of the now Laval-based lab, which runs some 25,000 tests per year, many of them for Major League Baseball, the NHL and the NBA. It’s one of just three WADA-accredited labs in North America. Ayotte says the CFL doesn’t test nearly enough, and has a much higher rate of failed tests (nearly 3.5%) than the other leagues. “Enough to be worrisome,” she said. “A significant number.” She says the league should follow the lead of other pro sports and suspend players after one failed test. “The CFL can do whatever they want — if they were only within their own,” Ayotte said. “But they are the (example) for our sons and daughters that are practising sports in universities and colleges. “There is absolutely no justification to dragging feet about this issue. And money should not be an issue.” Ayotte says the CFL has responded to her concerns by looking at taking the collection and testing of its players’ samples south of the border. “It’s a shame,” Ayotte said. “It’s a Canadian league. They would go in the USA because they don’t like to be forced or pushed to improve their program?” Dealing with agencies in the U.S. would remove the CFL from the watchful eye of the Centre for Ethics in Sport. The Centre, in a Friday email to the Sun, would not issue a statement or grant an interview, other than to say the CCES’s contract with the CFL has been “a topic of discussion recently.” A CCES spokesman referred all questions to the CFL. A league spokesman said commissioner Jeffrey Orridge was busy in meetings all day, while providing a statement from chief operating officer Michael Copeland, defending its drug policy. “We are always open to improving our policies, and have already had some discussions with the CFLPA on the issue of how our policy is applied to CIS players attending our Combine,” the statement read, in part. The CFL policy states players testing positive once are to face mandatory testing and counseling. A second failed test calls for a three-game suspension, a third test for a one-year ban and a fourth test for a lifetime ban. Players testing positive at the combine enter the CFL as first-time offenders. On the front lines of the media campaign against doping for years before taking a spot in the background more recently, Ayotte says she was astonished the five positive tests received so little attention, which is why she contacted the Sun shortly after last month’s story. “Nobody is commenting,” she said. “Maybe the reporters sometimes… are very close to the professional teams. So they find it really difficult. Or they are just not aware. “Why do you think there is a culture of doping in football in our country? It is because what is the pressure on the CFL and on university football if the media are absolutely not paying attention to this issue? For me it’s absolutely not a core value of the Canadian population. You don’t cheat to get where you want to be.” Ayotte says sports like baseball learned the hard way that doping must be treated seriously. But the CFL, she says, is stuck in the 1980’s. Since penning her letter to the CCES, the league has hired a new commissioner, Orridge replacing Mark Cohon, so the league’s position on the issue could change over time. Its latest and most vocal critic can only hope. “I can understand (the CFL saying), ‘What is this girl doing in our life?’ It’s the CFL having its own business,” Ayotte said. “But this is a question of branding. It’s even commercially beneficial for the CFL to crank up its program. This is not good publicity. “And what about the other athletes? What is the point in telling other athletes to not dope? The advantages appear to outweigh the risk of getting caught. And if they ever get caught, they are still recruited by the league. So what’s the point?”