Juice Stand

Canadian Interuniversity Sport tries to police substance abuse, but is proper regulation a lost cause?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Sports and Testosterone in a bottle

Photo illustration: Jonas Hrebeniuk

With some of Major League Baseball’s biggest stars currently embroiled in federally investigated steroid allegations, it has become increasingly important for university sports to maintain its credibility regarding doping policies.

In Canadian Interuniversity Sport, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport works with CIS to conduct drug testing for all student-athletes.

CIS began its doping control program in 1990. Since then, approximately 5,200 tests have been conducted on student-athletes, yielding 47 doping suspensions, including the most recent two-year suspension of Mustangs wide receiver Matt Baxter following a positive test for Letrozole metabolite.

Letrozole reduces estrogen levels and boosts testosterone levels, while metabolite assists the breakdown of Letrozole in the body.

According to Marg McGregor, chief executive officer of CIS, approximately one in 25 student-athletes are randomly tested per year. She said the number of athletes being tested is directly contingent on the budget provided to the CCES.

“The CIS does not receive the money,” McGregor said. “The federal government funds the CCES. They are the body that co-ordinates the doping program within Canada for all national sport organizations.

“They have a budget and that budget determines how many tests get done on an annual basis.”

However Dick Pound, former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said he does not believe enough is being done to prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Canadian university sports.

“I have never felt that random testing is sufficient,” Pound said. “You have to be able to test where the risk is highest or where you suspect that there may be doping. This means you must be able to target-test.”

McGregor made it clear random sampling is currently the only feasible option.

“There are 10,000 student-athletes and we will never get to the stage where all of them are tested. We have a random sample in place and this sample serves as a deterrent,” McGregor said.

“If Mr. Pound would like to pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars for additional testing, we would be happy to receive that.”

Student-athletes in all CIS-sponsored athletics are tested by the CCES. The tests can be used to identify not only steroids, but any type of drug use.

Alongside Baxter’s positive test for Letrazole metabolite, one athlete tested positive for cocaine and one for marijuana. Last season, three athletes tested positive for marijuana use, but none received a suspension.

Since 2002, amongst CIS athletes, violations for substances other than cocaine and marijuana have been few and far between. However, over the course of the program’s history more than half of doping violations have been for steroid use.

Another measure imposed by the CCES on Canadian athletes is a mandatory online course that was introduced in 2007. According to Chuck Mathies, Western’s interim director of Intercollegiate Athletics, the course discusses ethics in sport and methods to avoid cheating.

The course also provides information about drug testing routines and what they entail. The online program demonstrates to each athlete what their rights are as they are being tested.

Prior to the creation of the online course by the CCES, Mathies said there was an education program set up for first-year athletes regarding the dangers of doping.

“When the new online system came through, we were pleased as it provided more information accessible to the student rather than a one-time information session,” Mathies said.

McGregor echoed Mathies’ sentiments regarding the online test.

“Initial feedback has been very positive,” she said. “Universities are saying that it is very convenient for the athletes, as they are able to complete it at a time that fits their schedule.”

Mathies indicated some changes are still being considered with respect to the education Western provides to its own athletes.

“We are looking at going back and having some educational programs by having a doctor available for students to speak with,” he said. “It [establishes] our doctor as ... a visible person.

“If one of our athletes needs to speak to someone, then they must know who our representative is.”

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