Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) athletes may have to face the possibility of having Big Brother watch their every move in this off-season.
The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, which oversees the drug testing of all amateur athletes in Canada, will implement a revised Canadian Anti-Doping Program beginning Jan. 1, 2015.
The Canadian Anti-Doping Program is currently on its third version since 2011 but the revised program will increase the vigilance of testing if accepted by the CIS.
Intelligence on athletes’ whereabouts and training times will be compiled while many will be put on biological passports – the collection of four blood samples throughout the year.
The CIS can reject the new drug-testing program but would risk losing all government funding and could also be fined.
The new program will also have the funding to allow a larger scope of athletes to be tested each year.
Only about 150 tests were performed last year in the CIS, which is home to 10,000 athletes. Fewer than two per cent of those tests came back positive.
Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport president Paul Melia says the new program may cause that number to rise.
“One of the reasons we may have such a low percentage is that we’re not able to do enough of the kinds of tests that will catch cheaters,” Melia says.
Melia says a majority of the organization’s funding is spent at the Olympic level, leaving very little left over for CIS drug testing.
Under the current system, athletes are tested on both an announced and unannounced basis. Most testing is done with urine samples and then screened for substances on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list, which disapproves of any substance considered a performance-enhancer.
Everything from anabolic agents, growth hormones, and narcotics like oxycodone can land an athlete a two-year ineligibility ban from competition. That number will increase to four years of ineligibility under the new program.
Recreational drugs like cocaine and marijuana are banned as well. Melia says cocaine is a stimulant that athletes take on game day to give them the extra edge in aggression and energy. With marijuana, there’s a bigger debate. Some claim marijuana is taken by athletes in fear-related sports but Melia questions whether it should be on the prohibited list.
“Our organization suggests marijuana should not be on the banned list because we feel (athletes) are not using it for performance enhancement reasons. We’re picking up stuff from social use and it’s stored (in the body) longer.” But many Ryerson athletes will not be tested in their entire CIS careers because those playing what Melia calls high-risk sports like football are more likely to be targeted.“We certainly do identify sports as to their risks for doping. With a limited amount (of funding) we go towards sports that rely on strength or endurance,” he says.
Melia doesn’t consider hockey to be a high-risk sport but two members of Ryerson’s men’s team were tested this year. Coach Graham Wise won’t reveal the identities of the tested athletes but says he wasn’t surprised to see sample collectors waiting for his athletes after a recent practice.
“We know that at any time they can show up,” Wise says. “We’ve been tested one or two times before.”
Wise says none of his athletes have ever tested positive and that education on drug use stops this from happening.
“It’s on the agenda for the tryout meeting of the year,” he says. “Kids that aren’t even going to make the hockey team get it all explained. We’ve done everything possible to deter athletes.”
All CIS athletes have to sign acknowledgment forms before the beginning of the season, agreeing to the rules and making themselves available for testing.
Some past athletes didn’t take those rules to heart. Nine members of the University of Waterloo Warriors football team tested positive for steroids in 2010.After receiver Nathan Zettler was arrested by police for possession and trafficking of anabolic steroids, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport performed tests on all 62 players.
The football program was suspended for a year and the university is still trying to re-establish its reputation after the largest drug bust in Canadian university history.
However, at least one athlete doesn’t think the new level of testing is merited.
Ryerson Rams men’s basketball guard, Yannick Walcott, says the money spent on drug testing can be better used somewhere else.
“It’s not like someone is calling a bookie and making bets,” Walcott says. “I don’t think the CIS is at that level for that kind of testing. I would say test the top 10 (of each sport) only.”
Collecting intelligence in the off-season worries Walcott, who says athletes are still young and are going to break rules in the summer. “I think it’s tough enough for us already to have a life between September and April, but now in the summer time we have to worry about who we’re hanging around with? These guys are kids. What do you think they’re going to do in the off-season?”
Eduard Iljazi, third-year chemical engineering student, says the level of testing in the new anti- doping program is not needed for university athletes.“It is kind of creepy, imagining people looking at you and surveying you while working out,” Iljazi said. “It’ll promote fairness. However, it is too much personal information to be looked at.”
Athletes are randomly chosen to perform urine tests throughout the year while blood tests are only common in high-risk sports like football.
Afshin Rahimi, second-year aerospace engineering student, agrees with increased testing but says it should have been introduced more gradually.
“They’re going too far from where they were,” Rahimi said. “Maybe if it was step by step, that would be OK. I think there should be a gradual approach to pinpointing things for people and monitoring athletes.”
Fewer than two per cent of last year’s tests yielded positive results. This makes Jackson Klie, a recent photography graduate, think that there isn’t a serious problem with performance enhancers at the university level. Klie says he thinks most athletes would only be caught for the use of recreational drugs.
“The whole monitoring (of athletes) beyond their role at university seems a bit invasive to me,” Klie says. “I’m guessing (positive results) would be on the recreational level especially at a university. Obviously people are doing drugs. I’m sure it is a problem but I don’t think it’s something that’s a glaring issue especially at Ryerson.”
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 19, 2014.