Thursday, November 24, 2005

Whizzing For WADA

It’s a rare day when the London Free Press breaks news. But it’s not so hard to do when the outspoken Dick Pound drops by for a visit. The WADA head was speaking this afternoon at the University of Western Ontario. In an interview following the speech he lashed out at hockey for its head-in-the-sand approach to performance enhancing drugs:
“I spoke with Gary [Bettman] and he said ‘We don't have the problem in hockey.’ I told him he does. You wouldn’t be far wrong if you said a third of [hockey players are gaining some pharmaceutical assistance]…The NHL has reached a deal with their players that looks as though they found an early copy of the baseball policy on the floor somewhere.”
The item has already been picked up by CP, and is on its way through TSN, the Star, and CBC. No doubt a flustered Gary Bettman will deny all, and the players association will chime in.

What Pound omits from his storyline is that the NHL’s best and brightest already face a better deterrent to cheating than the League's own testing and penalty system. They face Dick Pound's WADA itself.

To be eligible for the Turin Olympics, all 81 potential Team Canada players long-listed by Wayne Gretzky in October agreed to abide by the IIHF and Olympic testing protocols. Any player on the list can be forced into a no-notice out-of-competition test by WADA officials.

The condition applies to hockey players from every nation, of course. And you would be hard-pressed to find an NHL player of significant talent that hasn’t been short-listed by his national side.

WADA brags that its testing “focuses on elite athletes” and that in the run-up to Salt Lake they conducted more than 3,500 tests. They also stated that in 2003 they conducted 4,229 unannounced urine tests and 775 out-of-competition blood tests, which produced 25 “adverse findings.”

How many of those more than 5,000 tests in 2003 were from ice hockey players? There were 70. If the testing is effective, as WADA claims, then the only way 1/3 of hockey players are on performance enhancing drugs is if all 25 of those adverse findings came from the one sport. Alternatively, maybe 1/3 of players cheat, but none of hockey’s drug-users were good enough to make it onto their nation’s Olympic short-list(in which case, so much for performance enhancement).

The players must, by now, have a sense that there’s a good chance they’ll be tested. In 2004, 25 whizzed for WADA, and fully 152 tests were made in the winter Olympic year of 2001. That sounds like enough testing to have deterrent value, and if it’s not, WADA can just up the numbers.

They also have to know that performance enhancement isn’t worth it: Article 10.1 of the IOC’s Anti-Doping rules spells out that disqualification can result for an Olympic team where more than one player tests positive.

Dick Pound is obviously not happy with the NHL’s internal policies on testing and suspension, but given the long reach of WADA’s arm when dealing with NHL players, he has no reason to believe that a third of the players in the game are doping.


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