Volume 96, Issue 95
Friday, March 28, 2003

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Performance-enhancing drugs in university sport?

By Mike Burton
Gazette Staff

Most men would squirm at the thought of watching their testicles shrink, but for many athletes, this is just one of the sacrifices they are willing to make in exchange for the benefits of using performance enhancing drugs.

The Canadian Interuniversity Sports commission has identified doping in sports as a serious issue and, consequently, steps have been taken to ensure that the problem can be controlled. Dan Smith, director of sports and recreation services at Western, believes that education is the key to a drug-free sports program.

"We can never allow ourselves to be as na•ve to believe that performance-enhancing drugs don't exist," Smith said. "So, work on education and providing information is very important."

Smith also believes that the CIS's requirements regarding drug education have been a major step in the right direction. For an athlete to receive eligibility to compete in the CIS, he or she must participate in educational seminars. They aim to enlighten athletes about anti-doping procedures and counselling regarding both banned and legal substances.

The CIS, like all other national sporting institutions in Canada, follows the Canadian policy on doping as stated by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports. The policy requires that athletes be subject to unannounced, no-notice drug testing.

According to Tom Huisman, director of operations and development at the CIS, random drug testing is a two-pronged attack on identifying users and deterring athletes from using performance-enhancing drugs.

Despite the level of attention that doping infractions receive, Huisman stresses that there have been limited cases in which varsity athletes have tested positive for banned substances.

"Since 1990 there have been 4,300 tests administered," Huisman said. "And of those 4,300 cases, there have only been 33 infractions."

The penalties for testing positive for banned substances are very severe, and for substances classified as "steroids," the penalties can be dire.

First-time offenders who test positive for steroid substances are suspended from competition for four years and are permanently ineligible for federal sports funding. Repeat offenders face a lifetime ban from Canadian sports, both amateur and professional, and the CCES is looking to extend the penalties internationally.

Athletes testing positive for banned substances classified as stimulants are also subject to punishment, however, these penalties may be less severe. If the level of stimulants in the body exceeds the legal threshold, an athlete will be required to submit a letter of explanation, and upon review, the situation will be considered either inadvertent or it will be deemed an infraction. The penalties in these situations may range from the offender receiving an official warning to receiving a temporary ban with re-instatement after three months.

"More often it is deemed inadvertent. Probably half of the cases are a result of athletes taking cold or cough medication," Huisman said. If an athlete is unsure about a product's ingredients, the best advice for him or her is to avoid taking it.

The CIS's penalties can be very severe to athletes, however, Mustangs football coach Larry Haylor believes that the harshest penalty would be an offender's intrinsic disappointment.

"Public ID is the worst penalty," Haylor said. "The CIS's penalties are very severe, but being identified as a cheat is even worse."

Haylor, like most coaches and players, said he believes users contaminate the sport and something has to be done to prevent drug-use from continuing.

There are many venues for people to obtain information about health risks and alternatives to steroids. However, there are also more venues, most notably the Internet, which offer products designed to give athletes a competitive advantage.

"The Internet is a double-edged sword," Huisman said. "It has made information about steroids and supplements more accessible, but it has also made information about the dangers and alternatives more available."

Kris Aiken, a former Western football player, has published an article on anabolic steroids on the Internet at www.testosterone.net and is also familiar with the random drug-testing procedure.

"We have to sit through the same seminar every year, so players are definitely aware of the risks," he said. Aiken, who has been tested twice in his career, is confident the number of athletes using banned substances is extremely small and his advice to athletes who are hoping to improve their performance is simple, but essential.

"Proper nutrition and dedication to the sport are the most important factors," he said.

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