Overdosed and underfunded

In Sports /

The CIS wants to get serious about steroids, but without proper funding it’s the same old story of no money, mo’ problems reports sports editor Rob Moysey

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and Matt Schmermund reluctantly sits down at his computer. It’s time for the anti-doping test that all university athletes have to take to be eligible to play.

The series of educational videos and multiple-choice questions about the evils of steroids isn’t something he looks forward to, but he plows through it in 25 minutes and quickly puts it out of mind.

“I’ve done it four years in junior hockey, so it’s a bit of a chore by now. It’s just something I expect to do,” said the second-year winger for the men’s hockey team.

Schmermund might not take it too seriously, but Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) certainly does. Right now, this video is practically the only thing standing between athletes and steroid use.

That’s because drug testing in the CIS is nearly non-existent thanks to a woeful lack of funding. And no amount of cosmetic changes will ever meaningfully curb drug use until enough funding for adequate drug testing is found.

As it stands, virtually every athlete could be violating the program and the CIS — even with triple the amount of testing in football — would not catch even 10 percent of them. Instead, the CIS must depend almost entirely upon athlete honesty and a handful of random tests.

Back in March, the CIS was rocked by the biggest drug scandal in its history when nine members of the Waterloo Warriors football team tested positive for steroids after a police investigation unearthed thousands of vials and pills in the home of wide-receiver Nathan Zettler. In response, the CIS changed its drug testing policy in September in hopes of more effectively deterring and catching steroid use.

The changes look impressive on paper: tripling the number of drug tests for football players, targeted testing of players who show marked performance or weight gains, and more intensive testing of football players during the high-risk doping months of January and February before the playoffs.

The CIS also partnered with the Canadian Football League, which will pay for the testing of the top 80 to 100 draft-eligible football players and have its professionals give CIS athletes the proverbial wag-ofthe- finger about steroid use.

Yet when put into perspective, the changes are more meager than meaningful. Only 269 drug tests were issued in 2008-09 — enough testing for less than 3% of all CIS athletes. And as the Warrior players were popping pills and cheating the system, the CIS decided to order 58 fewer tests for last season.

While it may have saved them $30,000, it cost them their reputation.

“The fact that the Waterloo incident came to light from a police investigation and not our drug testing program shows that there’s a lot going on out there,” said McGregor, CEO of Canadian Interuniversity Sport. “We don’t have the resources to test every athlete so we’re trying to create a program with a reasonable level of deterrence.”

Doug MacQuarrie, the CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), said the football-intensive measures put in place for this season are not sustainable in the future unless funding for the CIS increases dramatically.

“Reallocating tests is not a sustainable course of action, nor preferred over the long term,” he said. “Additional funding and other strategies are required in order to increase testing in football without negatively impacting the level of testing within other Canadian sports.”

The problem lies largely with the drug program’s funding structure. Currently, the program relies entirely on government funding distributed through the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport; individual universities do not pay a cent. But at $500 to $800 a pop, current urine and blood testing methods are too expensive for the cash-strapped CIS, so the program’s effectiveness hinges on deterring would-be ‘roiders with stiff penalties and the threat of off-season testing.

An athlete can be tested throughout their playing career and up to 18 months after their last day of school. Positive drug tests can be penalized with up to a fouryear suspension — essentially ending a young athlete’s career.

Since 2007, all CIS athletes must also complete an hour-long online educational program in their first year and a shorter version every following year in order to be eligible to play.

Those at the CIS are desperately praying that CIS members are willing to make contributions to the program to help give it some teeth. For universities that boast football clubs, there may be some genuine interest; for others like Ryerson, there is little incentive to do so. Understandable, given that of the 56 total drug infractions recorded under the CIS doping control program since its creation in 1990, football has accounted for 45.

Ryerson Athletics Director Ivan Joseph says that while Ryerson will comply with the new program, the university will not take additional steps to bolster drug testing or education.

“I don’t think you can make a knee-jerk reaction,” said Joseph. “Are you ever going to control deviant behaviour no matter what the rules are? No, absolutely not, we can never do that. But I think we’ve done a good job of educating our students and creating values in keeping with what the CIS wants.”

Ryerson’s lack of a football team likely puts them low on the list of steroid-using suspects, but that hardly precludes its athletes from partaking in recreational drugs that still violate the program. A Ryerson athlete, on condition of anonymity, said she has seen Ryerson athletes high at parties, and a few years ago, three members of the women’s basketball team were caught by a coach smoking marijuana and were kept out of play for several games.

“It’s college. Anyone who says athletes aren’t smoking weed in the off-season is naïve. And that’s not just at Ryerson, but in all of the CIS,” said a senior Ryerson athlete.

Ryerson has never officially had a drug infraction under the CIS program, but the severe lack of testing makes this a dubious distinction at best. Last year, only the basketball teams were tested at all, and neither of the soccer teams has been tested in four years.

“I’m sure people could get away with it if they wanted to, but I’d say you’re an idiot for trying. Everything you worked for your whole career could go down the drain,” said Caitlin Fraser, a fourth-year guard for the women’s basketball team.

“Obviously there are pressures, but if you break under them then maybe you shouldn’t be at this level of competition.”

Comments

    1. Haha yeah if only it was that easy. There are some pretty sophisticated ways of cheating the system that even amateur athletes have caught onto. The new targeted testing is a step in the right direction, but the CIS has to find a way to make it sustainable or the steroid circus will continue.

  1. This is a cash grab, nothing more. Create a crisis and demand money from the Government.

    CCES isn’t serious about stopping the spread of drugs they are only concerned about how they look. Why do I say that, well look at how their program is disconnected from the CIS and the schools programs. CCES suspend a player for 2 years and the school suspends them for 4 years. CCES offer a reduced sanction if you rat out the dealer, but the school still suspends you for 4 years. They publish your name, and if you give up the dealer they tell everyone you did, cool!

    So how many guys have cooperated, can you divide by zero.

    They not support the concept of going after the dealers or pushers of these PEDs? Keeping the names of the guys who cooperate private, no they want to pound their chests and scream we found another cheater.

    Wake up, want to stop the problem go to the root or source, stop chasing the symptoms.

    1. I’m not sure I’d characterize it as a “cash grab” per se – I mean it’s not as if they make money off of drug testing, right? But it certainly is a weak attempt to pretend as if something about steroids is being done.

      You’re right that there needs to be a standardized response for steroid use that the CIS and CCES implement in conjunction with each other. That way, the individual schools don’t feel pressure to make extreme punishments as Waterloo undoubtedly felt it had to. The schools and teams aren’t the problem – it’s the steroid users individually that should be punished.

      Perhaps the reason why the CFL’s new program allows for the first drug infraction to be undisclosed is for the express purpose of coaxing players to “rat out” the dealers? That would be truly progressive.

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