Anti-drug crusader won’t back down

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:13 PM ET

He’s given the NHL a few face washes, repeatedly brushed back baseball and hasn’t minded twisting face masks in football.

Over his career as anti-doping’s great crusader, Dick Pound wasn’t choosy about which pro game he took a run at, earning the unofficial title as the most hated man in sports.

And to think, nine years ago he almost became president of the International Olympic Committee, instead.

“As I look back, I may have been able to do more for the integrity of sport doing this than kissing babies and cutting ribbons and making presidential-type speeches,” Pound said. “The protocol would have driven me nuts.”

Instead, Pound has been driving the people who run pro sports nuts, slamming their head-in-the-sand approach to drug use by athletes, taking potshots at the drug policies they finally, and reluctantly, adopted and, at times, throwing out wild accusations with no evidence to back them.

Like the time he claimed some 30% of NHL players were probably using something.

Asked in a recent interview with QMI Agency whether he regrets that statement, Pound didn’t back down.

“No,” he said. “I don’t think I was extreme. And all of the people I’ve spoken to since, that are closer to hockey than I am, say, ‘You gave them a bit of a break.’ Everybody knows stimulants were the drug of choice.”

The founding chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, Pound, 68, has since stepped down from his post — but not from his stand.

In fact, the former Olympic swimmer wades into the issue like he never left.

The Montreal lawyer, still on the board of WADA and a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, continues to take on drug cheats and the bureaucracies that protect them.

When that bureaucracy is the NHL, he knows he’s going to get a few whacks across the shins in return.

“It amounts, in effect, to challenging organized religion in this country,” Pound said, in the next breath drawing no less than Alexander the Great into the debate.

“I think it was Ovechkin being interviewed not long ago,” Pound began. “They were playing in Montreal, and he said, ‘Ah, Montreal, love to come here. It’s so exciting, you don’t even need your Red Bull to get up for the games.’”

Told Red Bull isn’t against any rules, Pound didn’t blink.

“It’s part of a cocktail. That’s what happens with all these things.”

And so it goes with Pound — nothing is sacred, no quote too outrageous.

“If you know anything about hockey you know the whole stimulant game,” he added. “These are like bowls of jelly beans sitting around, and everyone takes them.”

Told of Pound’s latest attempt to play agitator, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly delivered a two-hander of his own.

“That’s absurd,” Daly said. “It’s ridiculous. I’d like to know when Dick Pound was in one of our locker-rooms. Maybe he should notify me next time he wants to go down and find the bowls of jelly beans.”

That’s just it — Pound feels he doesn’t have to find them to say they’re there. He just assumes all sports where you can make a million bucks a year are dirty.

And you won’t clean them up by testing players only during the season, as the pros do.

“Hello! When do you think they do these programs?” Pound said. “You can pick a steroid program and have it out of your system by the time the season starts.”

His other main beef is with the sanctions.

While getting caught, even for the first time, costs you two years under IOC rules, it only costs you 50 games in baseball, 20 in the NHL and four in the NFL.

“The sanctions are so ludicrous, it doesn’t matter,” Pound said. “Four games, and they’re bitching about that? I mean, these programs will last you four or five years. Four games is practically an invitation to do it.

“You know you’re breaking a rule. Why should you not pay the same penalty as any other athlete?”

Daly argues you can’t compare the pro to the amateur because the pros have a livelihood at stake, forgetting that some Olympic athletes make their living off their sport, too.

“The sanctions are very severe,” Daly said, refusing to back down. “They cut significantly into a professional athlete’s career.”

The NHL’s second-in-command doesn’t see the day when pro leagues ban players for two years.

Daly does see other ways to bolster hockey’s program, though. Year-round testing and testing for stimulants are both changes he supports.

But Daly maintains hockey “doesn’t have a problem and has never had a problem,” which, of course, makes him an ostrich in Pound’s view.

“Dick makes the statements he makes for his own reasons,” Daly said. “He makes sometimes irrational, unsupported statements to raise the awareness. That’s a method to his madness. It has no effect on us.”

Some would argue it has, that the pros wouldn’t even have drug policies if the most hated man in sports hadn’t been pounding his drum all these years.

“I’m happy to be known by the enemies I make in that field,” Pound said. “The so-called controversy is not from the overwhelming majority of athletes and parents of athletes who don’t want their kids to have to become chemical stockpiles. They say, ‘Don’t worry about what they say.’

“And I don’t.”

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca


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