Business hampers pro sports in fight against drug use
By JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press
Jacques Rogge's rip at North American professional sport yesterday had a familiar ring to it. The International Olympic Committee president was echoing the words of critics of drugs in sports, including recent ones by University of Western Ontario law Prof. Richard McLaren, who has ruled on many international cases as a member of the Court of Arbitration for sport.
Rogge, after telling the U.S. to either pay its dues to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or forget about bidding for the 2012 Olympics, zeroed in on the NHL, NBA and major league baseball for being "too lenient in the fight against doping."
This is hardly fresh territory for McLaren, who told an Australia-New Zealand Sports Law conference last week North American pro sports is more intent on image than joining the battle against performance-enhancing drugs.
"They want their best performers on the field and don't give a damn about what's inside their bodies," he said yesterday from Ottawa.
None of this would come as a great revelation to athletes who have outlived their usefulness and found themselves on the scrap heap faster than used tape.
"The National Hockey League has no drug testing," McLaren told the Aussies and New Zealanders. "Major league baseball is only slightly better with their new regime of this year. The National Basketball Association tests for street drugs that might harm the business image of basketball, but nothing more."
Only the National Football League, he said, has a serious drug-testing policy and the teeth to back it with suspensions for guilty athletes covering a fourth of the season.
McLaren, whose specialty is dispute resolution, has adjudicated salary disputes in hockey. He said pro sport lags for purely business reasons.
"Part of the answer lies in ownership of the business that are sports brands," he said. "No owner wants to have their marquee players or their elite performers not on the field, representing the best product for the fans to watch."
While Rogge singled out professional sport this side of the Atlantic, McLaren, who has ruled in drug cases before, during and after the Olympics, had a more far-reaching criticism. National teams and their countries can be the equal of pro sports in their willingness to cast a relatively blind eye to performance-enhancing substances.
"They have similar compelling forces to those of pro sport," he told his audience. "That is to protect the best national athletes, so as to further their own image as a sporting nation and the perception by others of their sports prowess."
McLaren chaired a committee looking into the practices of the U.S. Track & Field Association after the 2000 Sydney Olympics and found it was lax in both drug-testing and timely reporting of positive results. The massive American sports organization has since created heavy sanctions for athletes found to have taken performance-enhancing drugs.
McLaren says what is needed are stiff sanctions to the providers of drugs, not just those taking them.
"We need to bring aggressively within the world regime the coaches, trainers, doctors, drug designers and others," he said. "Drugs gnaw at the very heart of what sport is, why it is played, watched and revered by many."
Along with others, McLaren wonders whether the latest designer drug known as THG (tetrahydrogestrinone) detected by WADA is farther-reaching than the Southern California factory where it was produced.
Meantime, WADA, headed by Canadian and former IOC vice-president Dick Pound, has collected only two-thirds of its $20-million budget and has charged the Americans with showing little interest in the fight against drugs.
Which is odd for a country that loves the big show. If the credibility of sport is diminished enough by drugs, there will be no show.