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WADA Still Unimpressed with the NHL’s Drug Testing Policy

February 22nd, 2012 at 9:19 AM
By Matthew Heimlich

The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) hopes to have talks with the NHL before the end of this season's playoffs regarding strengthening the league's current drug testing program.  

"We have had, what I would describe as, pretty useful discussions, not only with the NHL, but with the players association," said WADA director general David Howman. "Everyone around the table at the same time."

"We are hopeful we can have another meeting with them either before the Stanley Cup playoffs or at least after them so that we can help them further."

With the MLB, NFL and NBA each introducing tougher drug testing within the last year, including promises to begin blood testing for human growth hormone in the near future, the NHL is under pressure to enact some changes to their current drug testing system, widely considered the weakest of the four major sports.

The NHL's drug testing policy, (fully explained here), was implemented after the lockout of 2004-5.  It permits three random drug tests to be administered to players throughout the season. There is no out-of-season testing and no testing during the playoffs.  All of the tests are done in-house by the NHL. Prior to this, there was no drug testing in the NHL at all, although players participating in international competitions and the Olympics were routinely tested. There were no positive tests among NHL players prior to 2005.  

After 2005, the NHL has administered thousands of random drug tests and reported only one positive test.  (In 2006, Jose Theodore and Bryan Berard both failed tests before the Torino Olympics, but were not suspended by the NHL, since those were not league tests).  The NHL and the players' association took this as evidence that hockey doesn't have a problem with performance enhancing drugs.  Others, like Dick Pound, former head of WADA, said that the reason NHL players are not testing positive is because the test itself is "a sham."

In 2005, Pound said that one out of every three NHL players is taking some kind of illegal performance-enhancing substance, although he later admitted he completely invented that statistic.  He later expounded upon his statement, saying that stimulants are the NHL players' drug of choice and there is no testing for stimulants under the current policy.  In an 2011 interview, Pound still feels the same way and says that the NHL's current system, though better than nothing, falls well short of the mark.  Because the program is handled by the NHL and not a third party, Pound has doubts as to whether the program is serious or effective.  Additionally, Pound says the NHL will not likely catch anybody cheating, because the tests are not stringent enough.  

Hockey in general clearly has some performance enhancing drug issues.  In 1992, enforcer John Kordic died from a combination of cocaine, alcohol and steroids.  While there had been rumors regarding Kordic's steroid use years prior, but nothing became public until after his death. More recently, on October 13, 2008, 19 year-old New York Rangers prospect Alexei Cherepanov collapsed on the bench and died during a KHL game in Russia.  Russian federal investigators ruled that Cherepanov, who reportedly died of a heart condition, had been blood doping.  

Under the current system, a player can use illegal drugs all summer and have it out of their system when the next season rolls around. "You would have to be an idiot to get caught under a system like that – an absolute moron," said Charles Yeasalis, a Penn State Univeristy professor who specializes in use and impact of performance enhancing substances. "To me, you would have to got far beyond the testing system to have a true sense as to whether the players are not doping."

This is the major issue confronting the NHL and player's association.  Many players seem willing to make the move to year-round testing, but others don't think there is enough of a problem to change the status quo. Without off-season testing, their program will continue to be seen as severely lacking and easy to work around.






Tags: Law, NHL, Sports, Sports Law, WADA

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