WADA says there’s “room for improvement” in CFL’s drug-testing policy

The World Anti-Doping Agency says the CFL’s drug policy has “room for improvement.”

WADA released a statement Wednesday after the head of the organization’s only accredited laboratory in Canada slammed the league earlier this week for failing to reprimand first-time drug offenders or uphold suspensions handed down in university.

“We continually work with all professional sports in the U.S. to help guide and further enhance their testing programs,” said WADA director general David Howman. “We have also reached out to the CFL for a meeting and are awaiting a response.

“There is room for improvement with the CFL anti-doping program and we would welcome an open dialogue with the league and its players’ union to discuss any enhancements that can be made.”

Christiane Ayotte, the director of the Montreal-based lab, reiterated in a phone interview that the facility won’t be testing CFL samples moving forward because of the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.

“I’ve been here for 30 years. I know what we’ve achieved,” she said. “I know what kind of relationship we’ve got with Major League Baseball and the players’ association, with the NHL, Major League Soccer and the NBA.

“The CFL, by comparison, is really doing nothing. They have a program, but the program is not at all to the (acceptable) level. This is our Canadian league and I cannot accept that.”

CFL president and chief operating officer Michael Copeland said the CFL is proud of its drug policy, pointing to its focus on education, rather than suspension, after a first offence.

“Everybody gravitates to thinking there’s only one solution,” he said. “I think we’re really forward-thinking in the development of our policy and we’re really happy with the results.”

Copeland added that while the league is open to discussions with the WADA, no such meetings are planned.

The CFL/CFLPA’s 2010 drug policy states that a player who initially tests positive is subject to mandatory testing for two years, but is neither named publicly or suspended. A second offence results in a three-game suspension, while a third positive test means the player receives a year-long ban.

Copeland said there have been no second positive tests since the policy was implemented.

“We believe it’s creating the right behaviour,” he said. “It’s a made-in-the CFL solution that’s right for us and really puts the players into a position of responsibility.”

But Ayotte said failing to suspend after a first offence doesn’t send a strong enough message.

“This is something I don’t see anywhere else,” said Ayotte, who added the CFL is now sending samples to the U.S. to be tested. “There’s no organization in the world doing testing and not applying sanctions on the first doping violation.”

Ayotte said part of the reason her lab is refusing CFL tests is that the league doesn’t recognize drug suspensions given to players in university, meaning that they are free to join the league after leaving school. Three of the five players who tested positive this spring were selected in the CFL draft.

“For me that is the core of the problem,” said Ayotte. “The CFL’s behaviour has direct repercussions on our sons and daughters … training in our universities and colleges and using steroids.”

Copeland said the league was disappointed with the positive tests of the university players in question and is reconsidering that part of the policy moving forward.

“We found this deeply concerning for the integrity of the league and especially the health and safety of all current and future players,” the CFL and the CFLPA said in a joint statement released Wednesday. 

Copeland said it’s difficult to suspend an individual for indiscretions in other leagues, but pointed out that any player who tests positive for a substance that’s banned by the CFL while playing elsewhere doesn’t start with a clean slate.

“We are recognizing that they made a bad choice,” he said. “We’re holding them accountable for that, and when they come into our league we’re treating them as having committed a first offence.”

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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