CFL anti-drug policy facing some serious questions

FBO CFL Commissioner 20150317

Give us numbers, CFL.

We don’t need to know the names of first-time drug users. We can respect an anti-drug policy that was devised to educate, help and rehabilitate anyone caught using illegal substances or performance-enhancing drugs. Bravo for having the players’ health in mind.

But we can’t respect a policy that doesn’t work. We see it in action and get told about it by CFL players: A few times a year a few players are taken away from practices and told to pee in a cup.

How many players are tested annually? How many test positive? Is it really working? All we know is that nobody has been suspended.

According to the league’s four-year old anti-drug policy, a first-time offender gets warned and is subject to repeated testings during the subsequent two years. No names are listed for a first-time offender. No problem. All subsequent, failed tests have the added shame of having a player’s name publicized.

A second offence warrants a three-game suspension.

A third offence warrants a one-year suspension.

A fourth offence warrants a lifetime ban.

Nobody has been suspended yet. Could it be because nobody has been tested twice? A first-time offender is supposed to be tested repeatedly, but the CFL — unlike other pro leagues — doesn’t even announce how many players failed their first tests. It’s difficult to believe any claims without statistics to back up the claims from a league that was woefully behind-the-times in setting up an anti-drug policy.

A nine-year veteran of the Saskatchewan Roughriders told reporters he hadn’t been tested once. It’s obviously a random testing program that doesn’t get to everybody.

Now it won’t test anybody.

The only lab in Canada accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) was conducting tests on CFL players’ samples. The same lab, one of three accredited labs in North America, tests CIS players. The CIS slaps a four-year ban on players who test positive, except that five such players tested positive before the CFL invited them to tryout camps; three of the players were drafted. The CFL will allow them to play.

The lab was infuriated, claiming that CFL testing was basically useless.

The head of the lab said 3.5 per cent of CFL players tested positive, by far the highest rate of any league it knew about. So, 3.5 per cent of how many — 20, 40, 80, 100, 800? So the CFL cited confidentiality clauses and ended its relationship with that laboratory. The league also severed its ties to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports (CCES) — a serious blow to the CFL’s credibility — while it searches for another lab to conduct tests.

When will that happen? How many tests will be conducted? How many players will pass or fail? Until then it’s hard to believe anything good or believable is coming out of the CFL’s anti-drug policy.

Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.