On Campus

Waterloo steroid scandal is only the beginning

Unless Sports Canada antes up some funding, CIS drug problem will persist

“I am very hopeful,” says Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) CEO Marg McGregor, as she speaks about the year-long suspension of the University of Waterloo football team for the umpteenth time this week. “The scope of the issue at Waterloo is an eye-opener, and the steps they took . . . it’s not taking the situation lightly, and all of the indicators are there that our members are very concerned. But it will take a sustained effort over time.”

Yes Virginia, it only took an arrest for drug trafficking, an unheard-of testing of an entire team, nine positive results, and a school’s football program to be kiboshed for the CIS to realize that they may have a problem on their hands. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It always does when a league realizes it has a drug problem. While the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) administered tests to a sprinkling of players from McMaster and Guelph (six and eight, respectively) with no positive results, the next person who gets caught won’t be a fluke occurrence to the public.

Related: Players protest suspension of football program, UWaterloo football suspended over steroids, The truth about steroids in university sport

There’s also the fact that urine tests are not even close to bullet proof. The CCES is still awaiting the results of blood tests administered to 20 of the Waterloo players (blood tests are much more expensive than urine tests, which themselves cost around $500 each). Those will be especially interesting to see, because not only is it immensely harder to use masking agents for blood tests, but they also reveal Human Growth Hormone (HGH) usage. HGH, while not technically a steroid, is banned by the NHL, the NBA, the MLB, the PGA Tour, the . . . you get the picture.

One league that doesn’t test for HGH, or any drugs for that matter, is the Canadian Football League, and yes, there may be a correlation there. The CFL’s new collective bargaining agreement, currently being negotiated with the players’ union, is expected to have drug testing included for the first time, which (in theory) will act as deterrent to star university athletes. “We’re quite encouraged and think that will have an impact,” said McGregor.

Aside from that, McGregor hopes that a greater emphasis on the mandatory education program all student-athletes undergo will yield results. But she also hopes that performing-enhancing drug use can be curtailed by changing the culture of sport for student-athletes,” she said. “I think we lose sight of the value of sport. A kid will come home, and the first question they will hear from parents is ‘did you win’?”

She has a point—the immense pressure put on athletes at all ages is helping to drive drug use. But is working with athletes to get rid of the “win at all cost” mentality realistic? “A big part of our success, and what we preach, is winning on the field and off the field,” says Theresa Hanson, UBC’s Associate Director of Athletics. UBC and other schools with large athletic budgets have resources to put into health programs; UBC employs a coordinator of athlete training and a therapist. Many schools don’t have those means.

Regardless, the only major deterrent is ensuring testing is done on more than two or three per cent of student-athletes. But that takes money. “There’s been a significant increase in the number of tests,” McGregor says, adding that more will be happening in the off-season, when athletes are more likely to be bulking up. Are they hoping to hit a target? “I don’t think it’s a specific number. It’s like a speed test on the highway. You don’t need to think there’s a speed trap at every intersection, but you need a concern that it might be there.”

In other words, while the amount of tests are going to increase from the meager 202 this year, unless the CCES gets a large boost in funding from Sport Canada, it probably isn’t going to be a giant increase. And frankly, increasing the number of urine tests done for a 60-person football team from three to five isn’t really going to create a large enough presence to be a deterrent. Teams, programs and schools will still be in the dark until it’s too late.

“We have a full program in place, we work with our coaches, we’re taking the responsibility to ensure that they’re educated,” Hansen says. “Can we do more? Um . . . ” She pauses. “You don’t know. How much is enough? This is obviously another learning experience for all of us.”

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