Checking minor players 'inevitable'

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:19 AM ET

Mandatory drug testing is working its way through all age levels of sports.

While London Junior Knights past president Joe O'Neill doesn't see a current need at the midget AAA level, he believes it's inevitable that 15- and 16-year-olds will be tested for recreational and performance-enhancing drugs.

The Canadian Hockey League, in conjunction with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), announced plans yesterday to test its players.

The Quebec league began testing two years ago and it's also in the Quebec midget AAA development league and junior AAA league.

"There's never been any request or discussion that I'm aware of in minor hockey at any meeting I've been at about implementing drug testing," O'Neill said.

He said one difference between junior and competitive minors is the minors still live with their parents. Most juniors are with billets.

"Clearly if there was a situation where a player seemed to be not himself and the coach noticed it, they would bring it to the attention of the parents," O'Neill said.

There are several reasons why Quebec adopted a drug-testing policy even though players are relatively young. It prepares them for testing later in their careers. whether it be at the university or international level.

There's also the education and prevention component of testing competitive athletes at a young age. Education focuses on the dangers of drug use and the price.

Prevention revolves around the tests themselves. If an athlete starts being tested at an early age, it makes it more difficult for that athlete to begin a regimen of drug usage.

While minor hockey players aren't paid, they're faced with competitive pressures that may lead them to look for an edge. The better they play, the higher they will be drafted.

"At this stage, we don't have any inclination to be the tip of the spear, but if we needed it . . . ," O'Neill said. "My guess is if they start testing in (major) junior and find out there is a drug problem, then it would probably filter down to the higher levels of minor hockey. If that was the case, our association would wholeheartedly support it. I'm not so sure I support it at this stage."

O'Neill believes if a problem is uncovered, it will be with recreational drug use, such as marijuana.

"Do I see (drug testing) coming down the road? Yes," he said. "But not for another five years or so. I see clearly there's a trend moving very strongly in that direction and that trend will become a tidal wave and we will be swept into line."

Most testing programs follow the guidelines of the Canadian Anti-Doping Program, which uses the list of prohibited substances as defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

University and college athletes in Canada already undergo testing.

"We've been testing since 1990," said Marg McGregor, chief executive of Canadian university sports.

"We test in competition and out of competition. It's random. We'll go to a practice and ask the trainer to put the roster names in a hat and draw out some names and test."

In 2004-05, there were seven positive tests, most for marijuana and cocaine.

"We basically provide education to our athletes," said Fanshawe College manager of athletics Mike Lindsay. "We tell them to play fair, stay clean and play with pride. We refer them to WADA lists and tell them to make sure they know what they're taking."

Testing is random.

"It's unannounced and announced like at our national championships," Lindsay said. "They also do target testing. If they hear something may be happening, they might test."


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