Tackling doping in sports

By Erin Shumlich

The defensive line dig their hands into the dirt at the line of scrimmage, ready to rush forward as soon as the ball comes into play. The second “hike” resonates, the defence depend on being big enough, strong enough and fast enough to stop the advancing team from gaining yards. Each player can only hope that a lifetime of hard work and finesse will help him overcome his opponents.

Sometimes, however, players rely on enhancement drugs to outshine their competition.

In the 20 year history of Canadian Interuniversity Sports doping violations, over 80 per cent of violations have occurred within the sport of football.

“Football is the most heavily tested sport, so obviously the results are reflective of that,” said CIS director of operations and development Tom Huisman. “The prospect of the CFL is there, so that impacts numbers. The nature is, unfortunately, that¬†doping is an avenue that a few individuals take, especially with the pressures that are there.”

CIS follows the strict Canadian Anti-Doping Program in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Agency. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, with support from the CFL, CIS and member institutions, have put together an extensive testing system, targeted specifically at football. Since April, the CCES, which updates its list of banned substances every January, has conducted over 320 tests on CIS football teams. Of 260 tests in previous years, 105 have been conducted on football players.

University of Calgary athletes are subject to complete mandatory anti-doping education annually, unable to compete until the online training session has been completed. This program is implemented nationwide, while subsequent programs and additional courses are university specific. The online ethics course goes over specifics like consequences and testing procedures to make athletes aware of the process.

“Out of competition testing has become more prevalent of late,” said Huisman. “Over the last few years there has been a shift in the emphasis, and rightfully so.”

Drug tests are scheduled according to the likelihood of use during high risk periods, like the off-season.

This year, two football players from Laval University were suspended on doping violations. Linebacker Michael Abraham tested positive for 19-Norandrosterone in February. Offensive linebacker Steeve Vachon tested positive for Methandienone at a training camp on March 6. This is the first year Laval players have been tested during the off-season. Both players have been banned from playing at Laval– Canada’s top university football team– for two years for the use of steroids.

In a recent push to end steroid use, the CFL called on WADA to oversee testing of players for performance-enhancing drugs last year, including blood tests for human growth hormone. This is the first move that the CFL has made in order to test players for drug enhancers.

“Before last year the CFL didn’t have a drug policy,” said CCES director of executive operations and public affairs Rosemary Pitfield. “If they don’t screen it sends the wrong message.”

She said the use of HGH in professional leagues opens up the idea that this behaviour is acceptable on amateur levels.

The second trace of HGH found in a blood sample worldwide was at the root of the doping scandal at Waterloo last year. A Waterloo football player who tested positive for HGH was suspended last spring, along with eight other teammates who tested positive for drug use. The university made the decision to cancel the full football season. Since then, players from McGill, Windsor and Acadia have tested positive for HGH.

“There is a vast number of reasons individuals use,” said Pitfield. “It is a quick way to get the body they want and get an edge to make the squad. When we are younger we think we are invincible and it won’t affect us later. What a lot of people don’t take into consideration are major health consequences, including heart issues and liver damage.”

Pitfield said that the short term effects are also extensive and can include small testicles, acne, depression and baldness.

From April 2009 to March 2010, CADA conducted 2945 tests with 24 violations, 17 involving marijuana use. CCES’s mission is “to foster ethical sport for all Canadians,” and they are continually looking for ways to make sports not only drug free, but also promote equity, fair play, safety and non-violence.

In February, CCES doping control officers and chaperones arrived unannounced at a Dinos football team dry-land training session. Each player present was tested, with 62 urine and 15 blood samples collected overall. During the out-of-season training session, every single sample came back clean– free of any substances on the WADA prohibited list.

U of C sports information director Ben Matchett said that this shows the integrity of U of C athletes. Matchett said that in addition to online courses that all new athletes have to complete. Athletes have to take refresher courses every returning year.

“We are unequivocally opposed to doping in sport and we are always looking for ways to further educate our student-athletes,” he said. “Student-athletes are subject to random, unannounced testing at any time ¬≠– even in the summer. We provide whereabouts information to the CCES for athletes in selected sports. In addition to the random testing, CCES is on hand to conduct doping control at all CIS national championships. Again, the athletes are selected at random and required to provide a sample immediately.”

Matchett said that although performance enhancers are strictly prohibited for U of C athletes, a completely clean environment has not yet been achieved.

“Out of the more than 400 who compete for us each year, there have been three violations of the anti-doping rules by University of Calgary student-athletes since 2007,” he said. “I am unaware of any before this. However, that is not to say there were not further violations.”

In 2007, men’s hockey player Jarret Lukin received a two-year ban for cocaine use. In 2009, football player Duncan McLean received a two-year ban for using Oxymetholone metabolites. Most recently, football player Julian Simmerling received a two-month ban for marijuana use this year.

Despite these cases, Matchett said this year’s football players have shown they are following the rules. “We are proud that the overwhelming majority of University of Calgary student-athletes compete within the rules, with integrity and without doping.”

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