New rules on doping offenders “a start” says head of testing agency

Christiane Ayotte calls the CFL’s new stance on doping offenders entering its ranks ”a start.“

Ayotte, the head of the only Canadian lab sanctioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, publicly criticized the CFL’s drug policy last year. She was especially bothered that the CFL didn’t uphold drug suspensions given to university players, allowing them to join the league after leaving school.

“I can only say this is a start, what was expected as a very minimum to not reward a student who’s been doping his way to pro sports,” Ayotte, currently in Europe attending meetings and conferences, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

Five players tested positive at last year’s CFL combine, with three later being taken in the league draft. One of them, linebacker Jonathan Langa, appeared in 16 games with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The players all had university eligibility remaining before receiving four-year bans from the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, which handles testing for the CIS. The organization used to oversee drug testing at the CFL combine but the league severed ties with the CCES following Ayotte’s criticism.

In 2014, Concordia defensive lineman Quinn Smith tested positive for a banned substance at the CFL combine but was selected in the first round by the Calgary Stampeders and earned a Grey Cup ring with the club. As a first-time offender under the league’s drug policy, Smith faced mandatory testing and counselling.

On Thursday, the CFL and CFL Players’ Association unveiled stricter rules for offending players before they are drafted or sign contracts.

A player violating the Canadian Anti-Doping Program or testing positive for a substance banned by the CFL up to 12 months before being draft eligible will be forced to defer his draft status for one year. Those going through the draft who violate anti-doping rules – whether they’re selected or not – will be ineligible to sign a CFL deal for one calendar year from the date of the positive test.

A player ineligible for the draft who violates the rules – from either the Canadian junior football ranks or an international player from another football league or sport – will be unable to sign a CFL contract for one year from the date of the violation.

Thursday’s announcement also said the CCES will resume its involvement in drug testing at this year’s CFL combine, suggesting the two organizations have reconciled. CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge also stated he’s hopeful the league and the players’ association will continue working towards the establishment of a new league-wide drug-testing program.

However, it’s unclear if an agreement can be reached by June 23 when the Toronto Argonauts host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at a refurbished BMO Field to kick off the 2016 regular season.

Under the CFL’s current drug policy, first-time offenders become subject to mandatory testing and are given the option of counselling. A player’s identity remains confidential.

A second offence results in a three-game suspension and public disclosure of the offender’s identity. The player continues to be subject to mandatory testing.

A third violation nets a player a year-long suspension while four-time offenders receive an automatic lifetime ban.

– CP