Pound throws a punch

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 6:27 AM ET

One-third of the 700 players in the National Hockey League use some form of performance-enhancing substance, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency suspects.

"I spoke with Gary (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) and he said, 'We don't have the problem in hockey,' " Dick Pound said.

"I told him, 'I'm sorry, you do have a problem in hockey. You have to stop saying you don't.' You wouldn't be far wrong if you said a third (of hockey players are gaining some pharmaceutical assistance)."

Pound was asked if he was referring to steroids and other performance-enhancing substances.

"Yes," he replied.

Moreover, he says, the sanctions hockey has in place for offenders are pallid.

"The NHL has reached a deal with their players that looks as though they found an early copy of the baseball policy on the floor somewhere," Pound said after addressing students at the University of Western Ontario's law school yesterday.

NHL vice-president Colin Campbell said the league has no reason to think there's a high incidence of doping.

"I'm not oblivious to what goes on in sports," he said. "Speaking for myself, I accept there could be hockey players who have used something to enhance performance.

"I've had players say they know guys who've taken steroids, but I don't know much more than that."

Punishment first introduced by major league baseball was for an offender to be called in for an interview. After pressure from U.S. Congress, it was upped to 50 games for a first offence, 100 for a second and leading to an outright ban.

International amateur athletes are subject to a two-year ban after the first instance.

The NHL introduced random tests for performance-enhancing drugs in its new collective bargaining agreement. A first-time offender would receive a 20-game suspension. A 60-game suspension would be given to a repeat offender, with a permanent ban for a third offence.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly took exception to Pound's comments.

"I would respectfully suggest that Mr. Pound's comments have absolutely no basis in fact," Daly said.

"I find it troubling, to say the least, that he would find it necessary to comment on something he has absolutely no knowledge of."

Ted Saskin, executive director of the NHL Players' Association, also bristled at Pound's comments.

"Dick Pound's comments are incredibly irresponsible and have no basis in fact," Saskin said. "He has no knowledge of our sport and our players and frankly has no business making such comments."

But as chairperson of the anti-doping body, Montreal lawyer and chartered accountant Pound has made it his business to find out what is going on in all sports. He doesn't like what he sees.

Though considerable headway has been made in detecting the customary ways to cheat, there are fears of a potentially new means of getting an unfair advantage.

It's called genetic engineering, whereby certain muscles can be isolated and enlarged. It would be undetectable.

Pound spoke of a leading geneticist who says half his e-mails are from coaches and athletes looking to give it a try, even though the system hasn't been tested on humans.

And it isn't just North American sports that trouble Pound. A celebrated recent case involves six early urine samples given by American cyclist and Tour de France star Lance Armstrong that turned out positive for an oxygen-boosting substance.

"It was done by the leading laboratory in the world," Pound said. "It's being spin-doctored at the moment, but I think Lance has some questions to answer."

Pound has some questions for tennis, too.

"You look at old Wimbledon matches and see (Jimmy) Connors and (Bjorn) Borg," he said. "They look like they're 16 years old (compared to modern players)."

Pound, who is chancellor of McGill University, drew the doping role when the topic was under discussion at an International Olympic Committee meeting. He brought the Olympic Games into the financial big-time by negotiating a series of world television rights contracts.

Will the war on performance-enhancing drugs ever be won?

"Can you change human nature so that nobody will cheat?" he said.

"I would count it as a win if we could get 99.99 per cent not doing it because it's the wrong thing to do. I'd tell the 99.99 per cent not to worry, we're going to catch the minority.

"The gap is narrowing."


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