"CHL working on doping law." -- Newspaper headline on Jan. 24, 2004
Here it is, almost two years later, and Canadian major junior hockey is still working toward a standard anti-doping policy for its three leagues.
In that respect, the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League is way ahead of its partners, introducing its own random testing program last season.
Forty players were tested, with one being positive. He was suspended 10 games in the playoffs. The testing has continued this season.
The Ontario Hockey League and Western Hockey League have no policy, no testing.
But those two leagues, acting under the CHL umbrella, are still working on it, OHL commissioner and CHL president David Branch said yesterday.
"We watched (the Quebec league) with great interest," Branch said. "In June, we went through a report from them and with a representative of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport.
"From there we've been developing a framework to see both the Western and Ontario leagues move forward and deliver a program of hopefully expanding the educational process because we see that as being absolutely paramount in dealing with young people, such as we do, and then moving ideally to a drug testing program."
The Quebec league quickly initiated its policy -- using the same list of banned substances as put out by the World Anti-Doping Agency -- when player agent Gilles Lupien said in December 2003 that 40 per cent of Quebec junior players were using drugs.
"The Quebec league moved extremely quickly based on some issues and some allegations of concern," Branch said. "It's such an important area. It's something you don't want to move on just for the sake of moving and you don't want to move unless you are absolutely prepared."
"The three leagues have agreed we would work toward developing a common policy in the area of drug education and testing. We're hoping we can move it to the level of testing for the benefit of the athletes."
Branch said the next CHL meeting is in January, "at which time we will finalize a critical path in terms of introduction in both the OHL and WHL."
That's two years after it was reported the CHL board would see something in June 2004.
"There's been unanimity among (OHL) owners to adopt the testing and education program," Branch said.
The first offence in the Quebec league is a suspension of eight to 20 games; 25 to 40 games for the second offence; possible banishment from the league for the third-time offender.
"We see a need to be consistent among the three leagues," Branch said. "We're dealing with young people and we have to make sure we develop a program that is heavily weighted with respect to education and then, in such a way that a person can hopefully not lose his dream to play.
"But there obviously has got to be appropriate sanctions that are in place."
Once testing is in place, what does Branch expect to find?
"I think we will find the vast majority of our players are conforming and not taking performance- enhancing substances." he said. "I think young people today are reasonably informed. Hockey players, especially with the way the game is being played now, it's not about bulk."
Quebec league commissioner Gilles Courteau said at the start of each season every player is asked to sign a waiver acknowledging the league's anti-doping policy and its penalties.
"They've been made aware of everything -- by team management to team doctor to team therapist -- to what is our policy, what they can do and what they cannot do, what they can take and what they cannot take," Courteau said.
"I don't want to say we are ahead of the other two leagues because last year we went on a pilot project for the CHL. It's not an easy program to put in place, but when it is there it is very efficient.
"You come to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and we take care of you as a hockey player and as a student. And we are going to take care of you, too, as a young man."
It's time the OHL and WHL catch up.