As a keen cyclist I sat watching the Lance Armstrong interview with intent. What would he reveal? Who else was involved? How did he get away with it? After the two part counselling session/comeback beginning was over it was pretty clear that he revealed nothing that we didn’t already know.
It did get me thinking about other sports and how they handle the problem of the ever evolving Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) that are available to athletes who have, or can find the money – it has been claimed that a three month course of Erythropoietin or EPO as you may know it costs £1200 - to “even the playing field” as good ol’ Lance surmised.
Cycling is getting a battering at the moment and to an extent it does deserve it. However it is at the forefront of sport’s fight against PEDs and because of it’s willingness to tackle it’s problems and deviants head on it brings upon itself a set of problems that other sports do not seem to want to acknowledge let alone deal with.
Just last month the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) banned National Mountain Bike Champion David George for the mandatory two years as he claimed he was the only person involved in his abuse of EPO. SAIDS was established by the South African government after the Copenhagen Declaration of Anti-Doping in Sport (2003). They work with the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) to implement the rules and governance that WADA has proposed.
Norway has plans to go one step beyond the national governing and suspensions of their own, SAIDS and many other countries however. In a letter to the Norwegian Government the Norwegian Confederation of Sports (NIF), replying to a proposal from the Health and Care Services (HOD) suggested that the taking, storing and buying of any substance contained in the Norwegian Medicines Agency doping list (as influenced by WADA) is to be criminalised. They are proposing the new measures be added to an amended Medicines Act and be enforced by police rather than just NIF.
In short that means Bradley Wiggins was tested fourteen times in fourteen days at le Tour last year
This approach would be a much greater deterrent than a two year ban that can be reduced when complying with requests for information on others involved and/or the way doping programmes within teams have been run.
I would suggest that Armstrong would be much more forthcoming had he been threatened with jail time rather than now being concerned with orchestrating his way back into competition and bemoaning his “life sentence”.
So what of ice hockey’s approach to the “War on Drugs”? When searching for those found to have doped in ice hockey five names consistently appear within Google results; Bryan Berard, Sean Hill, Robin Rahm, Frantisek Pospisilf and Ulf Nilsson. The most recent of these being in 2010 (2007 in the NHL). Since 2000 there have been forty six examples of drug abuse within the sport worldwide (source: www.dopinglist.com) but I am more interested in what hockey is doing to combat the use of PEDs.
When researching the NHL/NHLPAs approach to PEDs it becomes apparent that it contrasts significantly to the approach that cycling is taking. Cyclists have a Bio Passport that indicates the hematocrit levels (the volume of red blood cells) which is most affected by EPO use and many other things so any changes in conditions can be easily spotted. For this to work effectively they need to be tested often.
There is no set time or amount of testing and the most high profile participants can be tested on average four times a month. In the Tour de France any cyclist that is in one of the race jerseys will be tested at the end of that stage, in short that means Bradley Wiggins was tested fourteen times in fourteen days at le Tour last year.
Since 2000 however there have been forty six examples of drug abuse within the sport (hockey) worldwide
We have all read about the tragedies and the drugs that may or may not have been involved in cases such as Derek Boogaard’s passing. Thankfully one of the positives to arise from the recent Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) debacle is that prescription drugs such as Ambien are much more tightly monitored. These are self policing policies though. Try and get to the bottom of what the NHL has in place regarding formal testing and monitoring and things are vague.
The CBA from 2005 prescribed (pun intended) that players could be “subject to up to two “no-notice” tests every year, with at least one such test to be conducted on a team-wide basis. Players will be subject to “no-notice” testing at any time.” The first positive test will incur a twenty game suspension with the second resulting in sixty games, both without pay. The initial 2005 list included any substance that was included on the WADA list of banned substances but any additions could only be negotiated by the NHL and NHLPA with only PEDs included. Therefore cocaine, cannabis and any other recreational drugs would mean a player enroll onto the league’s Substance Abuse/Behavioral Health Program rather than face any bans automatically.
The most recent CBA stated that “enhanced drug testing policies and protocols, including with respect to the number, timing and scope of testing” will be implemented but there are no definite details provided. This therefore can be taken as seriously as when they say they will “contemplate[s] the creation of a committee to study the issue of HGH testing and to make recommendations relative to whether an HGH testing program should be established in the NHL”.
Go from the NHL’s site to the NHLPA’s and you get the same media announcement as you have just read. No concrete approaches. Why not fall in line with the IIHF approach to doping? Surely that is a simple solution to a very complex problem.
This is not a piece to start rumours about PED abuse being rife within the league or the sport as a whole. I have looked at the NHL due to their recent Collective Bargaining Agreement meaning they have had the most recent opportunity to amend and define their stance on PEDs within the sport. It is interesting to see the different approaches that a sport apparently rife with cheats and frauds such as cycling is taking compared to hockey. As I said above, it may not be that the sport has a problem, it could also be that the sport just does not want to deal with any problems that are present. Afterall how long has it taken for concussions to be taken seriously? It is not as if it is a condition that has not been proven to exist.
Whether it be banking with Libor fixing scandals to cycling and its rabid doping past it is very difficult for any sport, organisation or industry to look at itself and admit it has failed to do what it should have. Sport is coming under increasing scrutiny to prove itself as something to believe in. With more money and investments these responsibilities are inevitable. With more money there is also more pressure and with that comes the likelihood of corruption.
As fans we should welcome this. I would much prefer to see governments taking the steps that South Africa and Norway are taking than Spain for example. The impending trial of Eufemiano Fuentes has been told by the Spanish government it can only discuss cycling. No tennis and no football. The evidence against those sports has been ‘dismissed’. Which side would you like to see hockey on?
Looking after it’s players, employees whatever you want to refer to them as by testing for PEDs and other drugs, the NHL and the sport more widely could help us all to believe in sport in it’s most fundamental form. That of one man or team against the other battling to see who is the best on the night. The salary cap tackled financial doping head on. Does the NHL have the appetite to see whether or not the players are achieving all they do clean too?