Pound won't back down

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

When Richard Pound rolled into London last November, he ignited an international furor with the accusation that one-third of NHL players were using performance-enhancing drugs.

Well, the Montreal tax lawyer and head of the World Anti-Doping Agency is coming back on Oct. 18 to speak at a Canadian Club luncheon at the London Hilton and lecture for Richard McLaren's law classes at Western.

He returns on the heels of calling Canadian hockey icon Don Cherry a "pussycat," vowing to continue snuffing out cheaters in pro and amateur sports and sticking to his guns that hockey still has a drug problem at the pro and junior levels.

"The reaction I got from hockey last time is the first reaction I usually get," Pound said yesterday from Montreal. "There's initial denial. They say, 'We don't have that problem. There's no drugs in our sport.'

"They're doing something now, but more can be done. It's that way in most sports. Cycling always asks, 'Why are you picking on us?' The reason we catch more users is because we administer more rigorous tests."

Vilified and called irresponsible by NHL reps and many of the league's media supporters for his drugs-in-hockey claims, Pound was called out by Coach's Corner star Don Cherry and then appeared on a CBC hockey telecast for a face-to-face debate. He said drugs are part of the sport's culture and it doesn't do any good to bury heads in the sand over the problem.

"What do they say? Every five goals in the NHL is worth a half million bucks," Pound said. "Players don't just get to the NHL and start using drugs. It begins at a younger age. But when you're a kid of age 18, you never think about death or the poor schmuck who's part of the 50 per cent with liver disease from it. When you're young, you feel you're immortal and it's not, 'God, I hope I make it to 30.' "

For a previous generation, the late NFL star Lyle Alzado, who died of brain cancer stemming from years of steroid abuse, was a frightening example of the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.

Pound thinks scare tactics and warnings from athletes work for educators and coaches, but it's the current crop of competitors he's trying to clean up.

"I think it's the biggest issue facing sport today," Pound said. "If it doesn't get better, parents are going to stop putting their kids in competitive sport and start putting them in different things like orienteering. I don't think that's a good thing."

In an indictment of jumbled Canadian and U.S. values, Pound said it was easier to get smaller, so-called less-developed countries to sign a universal drug policy with WADA than it was to enlist North American and European organizations in the mix.

"The smaller countries want to be a part of it because it gives them a better chance to compete," Pound said. "They know in the U.S. and Canada, the money is there to spend $30,000 a year to fund a performance-enhancing program. You can do that in a wealthy country, but that option doesn't even enter your mind when you're in a poor country."

Pound feels North American pro sports will get to a point where they will finally accept the WADA list of banned substances for their players. Drug testing and penalties for getting caught are a constant subject of debate because all sports operate in a different manner.

"With the NFL, the argument is that the average career of a player is four years, so to suspend someone for two years is out of proportion," Pound said. "They think four games is too much because it's a shorter season than other sports."

There is currently a reliable test for human growth hormone, which is on WADA's illegal list, but the challenge is to get a company behind it to make the mass production of testing kits viable. It's the next step in a half-century drug fight Pound first became aware of as a competitive Olympic swimmer.

"When we first heard about it in the early '50s, some athletes got hooked into the veterinarian community because they (veterinarians) were using drugs in beefing up cattle for meat," Pound said.

The WADA boss still feels someone has to be "as dumb as cattle" to use those same drugs as performance enhancers. The drugs are changing, but the sentiment in Pound remains the same.

POUND AT A GLANCE

On Don Cherry: "He challenged me to go on his show and I did. He was no problem -- he was a pussycat. He was satisfied with what he heard and by the end of it, he was saying, 'Bettman, do those tests.' It's always different when you're face-to-face than when you're just talking about it."

On drugs in hockey: "What I said last year (in London about one-third of NHLers were using drugs) was spin-doctored to mean steroids. The drug of choice for hockey players tends to be stimulants -- Sudafeds, Red Bull mixes -- although I see (Andrei) Nazarov said he thought 99 per cent of enforcers were on something because they needed to be stronger."

On the early days of drugs in sport: "When I was competitive swimming, we didn't know anything about it, but heard the weightlifters were doing it. Hammer throwers and shot putters, they would be bulking up. You'd hear a guy threw 70 (metres) instead of 60 and people would talk about it, but then it would go away. At the time, the thought was if you wanted terminal acne and testicles the size of almonds, then go for it."

On WADA and pro sports: "I think we'll get to the point where sports like hockey, baseball and football will accept the WADA list (of banned substances). Right now, they argue there are drugs on the list that aren't performance-enhancers for their sports. Look at the list and tell me which ones aren't."


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