On Campus

The truth about steroids in university sport

Concerns arise over whether CIS can actually combat drug use

You know how all of last decade, sport organizations realized that unless they were vigilant about drug testing, their athletes would do them? Well, it appeared that Canadian universities didn’t get the memo. That naivete may be coming to an end.

Last month, Nathan Zettler, a wide-receiver for the University of Waterloo Warriors, was charged with possession of anabolic steroids for the purpose of trafficking. In the weeks after, Waterloo and Canadian Interuniveristy Sport (CIS) announced they would do drug tests on the entire team. While they haven’t released the results yet, everyone is bracing for the worst—including members of the football team.

“To be perfectly honest, anyone who doesn’t think there are seven to 13 players on every team [using performance-enhancing drugs] in the CIS, you’re kidding yourself,” said Joe Surgenor, a defensive lineman for the Waterloo Warriors who admitted to steroid use, to the Globe and Mail. “There’s at least that number. I don’t think the CIS really wants to find out what’s going on. They don’t want to know the answer.”

Hyperbole? Only slightly. Consider the embarrassing facts about the drug-testing program at our universities, which is jointly run between the CIS and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES):

  • Only 300 to 450 student-athletes are tested each year. In 2008/2009, that amounted to 2.69 per cent
  • An online education program is in theory mandatory for students, but the CIS does not require schools to provide proof that their student-athletes have been administered the educational program
  • While the drug-trusting program is supposed to be year-round, the majority of testing is done during training camp, not during the regular season
  • If a player is caught doing drugs, they get off the hook with no punishment if they “pinky-swear” not to do it again

Okay, that last one isn’t true, but you get the drift. The fact is, the drug-testing program at the CIS level is completely underwhelming. 22 years after Ben Johnson’s gold medal was taken away, and 5 years after the infamous Congressional hearings on steroid use, we as a nation are fully aware that unless rigorous testing is in place, a not-insignificant amount of athletes will take drugs to get ahead.

Despite this, Canada has been remarkably slow on the uptake in fighting drug use in sport. The Canadian Football League, for example, remained the last professional league in North America to not have a drug testing program until just last week. That’s shameful, and it points to why university football players would have little scruples in doing what it takes to stand out in a sport where physicality matters a great deal.

Are changes on the way? Yes and no. The CIS has pledged a complete review of its educational programs, but has so far been reluctant to substantially increase testing, claiming the estimated cost of $500 is prohibitively expensive. Their AGM is  next week, but the only motion on the table concerning drug use would force universities to give more information about when drug testing takes place, but wouldn’t increase the number of them. One thing is for certain: When the CIS announces how many players on the Waterloo football team are guilty of taking drugs, the debate will only have begun.

Related: UCalgary football player suspended for steroid use

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