Pound weighs in on NHL drug debate
ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency
|International Olympic Committee member and former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency Dick Pound speaks with the media in Calgary, Alta., Nov. 8, 2011. (JIM WELLS/QMI Agency)
CALGARY - Dick Pound isn’t surprised by George Laraque’s allegation he played with several NHLers who used steroids and stimulants.
“The only surprise is that someone is actually prepared to say it,” said Pound, who has been saying it for years.
“Many say it privately, but very few are willing to put it between the covers of a book. The real challenge right now is, ‘What is hockey going to do with it?’ Are they going to trash him like baseball did to (Jose) Canseco or say, ‘Alright, there’s a problem — let’s acknowledge it and deal with it.’”
It has been six years since Pound first took direct aim at the NHL, suggesting as many as one-third of its players were using various forms of performance-enhancing drugs. The brassy Montreal lawyer said it while he was founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), “and I discovered what it’s like to take on organized religion in this country.”
That is to say, while his impossible quest is a noble one — to rid all sports of performance-enhancing drugs PEDs — he was dismissed by those inside the hockey world who suggested he had no evidence or accurate insight.
Despite the subsequent introduction of the NHL’s first drug-testing policy in 2005, Pound said Tuesday in Calgary he still thinks one in three NHLers uses PEDs.
“I’d stick with that number,” said the long-time IOC member, who was in town to be inducted in Canada’s Sport Hall of Fame Tuesday night alongside NHL legend Ray Bourque, former CFL kicker Lui Passaglia, onetime Canadian soccer star Andrea Neil, ironman athlete Peter Reid and para-alpine skier Lauren Woolstencroft.
“There’s no sport that’s immune to all this.”
When asked to respond to Pound or Laraque’s allegations — made in the book, Georges Laraque: The Story of the NHL’s Unlikeliest Tough Guy — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s office said Tuesday it didn’t feel the need to comment on non-specific innuendo.
“That doesn’t surprise me at all,” Pound said.
Pound has never been able to provide any sort of evidence that NHLers are taking PEDs other than to essentially suggest it’s a societal issue and therefore must be prevalent in the NHL because of its “flawed” drug testing policy. He points out players aren’t tested in the summer, nobody knows what they’re tested for and the agency administering the tests is not independently run.
Only one player has been suspended the minimum of 20 games since the NHL’s testing policy went into effect — that was Sean Hill in 2007 when the defenceman was playing for the Minnesota Wild.
“I think it’s been kept pretty much under the carpet,” Pound said.
“The bad guys are getting more sophisticated, but then so are the good guys. It’s a game of cat-and-mouse that will continue forever.”
On a day when his lifetime of work as a builder was being honoured in Calgary’s beautiful new Hall of Fame home at Canada Olympic Park, Pound chuckled at the irony he is somehow considered the bad guy in his crusade against doping.
“I don’t think I’m the bad guy — I’m the good guy fighting bad guys,” said Pound with a chuckle.
“I don’t want my kids or my grandchildren to have to become chemical stockpiles to be good at sport.”
Nobody does, and Pound — who was a swimmer in the 1960 Olympics — thinks that’s why enhanced drug-testing should be part of the NHL’s upcoming CBA discussions.
“More people are aware of it, so they’ve got to respond,” Pound said.
“Parents and sponsors are starting to be concerned. It got so bad in cycling, sponsors were canceling teams and television partners were not covering the Tour de France. The really strange thing about this is that the players’ union should be saying, ‘We don’t want to do this to ourselves. We don’t want to be cheated by a guy hitting a ball that’s still rising at it leaves the county.’ But they don’t. They rally around it. They kill any whistleblowers and protect these thugs out there using those drugs.
“It’s a 180 from what you think it should be.”
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.