Last year, sports anti-doping czar Richard Pound was in London when he estimated one-third of NHL players use performance-enhancing drugs.
It was the moment, he quips, when "my invitation to all NHL games disappeared."
During an address to the Canadian Club at the Hilton London yesterday on drugs in sport, he cracked on another of the country's big professional sports -- the Canadian Football League.
"We're (Canada) running the CFL, where you spend your jail time," Pound said in a veiled reference to running back Ricky Williams playing for the Toronto Argonauts instead of the Miami Dolphins after he violated the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
"You talk to leagues and sport bodies and some say, 'We don't test because . . . there's no problem.' We'll keep Pete Rose out of the Baseball Hall of Fame because he gambled and could've influenced the game. But shouldn't we be more concerned about what the players are doing on the field and have those players tested?"
Pound, a member of the International Olympic Committee for nearly 30 years, has been the key whistle-blower on drugs in pro and amateur sports for the last decade as chairperson of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
He was startled by the news yesterday of the sudden death of another well-known whistle-blower -- Switzerland's Marc Hodler, an IOC veteran who called attention to corruption over vote-buying in the Salt Lake City Olympics bid that led to the expulsion and resignation of 10 members.
"He was one of the wise, old men of the movement," Pound said. "It's a surprise because even though he was nearing 90 (Hodler died eight days before his 88th birthday), I saw him about six months ago and he looked great."
In a question-and-answer session, Pound wouldn't remove the shadows of doubt that surround cancer survivor and Tour de France champion cyclist Lance Armstrong. The retired U.S. rider has been accused of a past doping infraction, which he has denied vehemently.
"I like heroes as much as anyone," Pound said. "I hope that history shows he was a hero. At this point, the jury is undecided."
Pound is optimistic his agency has been able to attract the research, funding and testing to help expose the "sociopaths of sport" who show disregard for the rules. He still can't explain how U.S. track star Marion Jones's positive A sample for EPO was not confirmed in a B sample analysis.
"I don't know why that happened -- a lab can't announce a positive A test until it is sent to another lab to be confirmed," Pound said. "We put these systems in place for that purpose and in the end, it's better to let a few guilty people go free than improperly convict an innocent person."
Pound felt a major step in catching drug cheats occurred at this year's Winter Olympics. Working on a tip, Pound and company aimed to test the Austrian cross-country ski and biathlon team and also called Italian police to see if they were interested in pursuing the case because the drugs in question were illegal.
Because past cheats had plenty of out-of-competition opportunities to mask their drug use, Pound said it is basically "a failure of IQ to be caught" at the Olympics. But the drug police are bearing down on drug cheats these days and Pound feels that -- plus education -- is the key.
"A lot of leagues and sport bodies see an athlete with a positive test as a failure rather than the positive measure of catching a cheat," Pound said. "Last October, we had 191 countries sign the World Anti-Doping Code in Paris. The Court of Arbitration for Sport will hear the cases, which the (regular) courts will be ecstatic about because there's a steep learning curve involved in these cases.
"We've come a long way in the past seven, eight years."
THE CFL RESPONDS
CFL commissioner Tom Wright's response to Dick Pound's comments on the league in London yesterday:
"The Canadian Football League and our players association have committed to work jointly to develop a meaningful and responsible anti-doping policy. We are in the process of evaluating the policies of other leagues while also considering proposals from outside third parties to help us develop our program. Any policy implemented would include educational and awareness programs, drug testing and results management. The policy would also include a commitment to ongoing treatment and rehabilitation if required."