Wednesday, June 24, 2015
CFL and CFLPA To Toughen Drug Policy
The CFL and its players union have finally bowed to public pressure, agreeing to hold “formal talks” to strengthen the league's drug policy.
League commissioner Jeffrey Orridge and CFL Players Association boss Scott Flory made the joint announcement Wednesday, after weeks of criticism from national and international leaders in the fight against doping.
In an interview with the Winnipeg Sun, Orridge said the league will address three key areas of the policy: how to deal with university players entering the league who've been caught doping, the penalties for first-time offenders and the frequency of testing.
All three areas have come under heavy fire from the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, which oversees the fight against doping in this country, from the only Canadian lab approved to do testing by the World Anti-Doping Agency and from WADA itself.
At the same time, the first-year commissioner continued to take a combative stand against the league's high-profile critics.
“No one should be in the position of dictating a policy that would be best for our players, our league and the game,” Orridge told the Sun, reiterating the league's statement the CFL will not be held to “a standard that no North American professional team sport is meeting.”
The CFL policy, though, does not meet the standards of other pro sports in that first-time offenders are not identified or suspended. Instead, they are subject to “mandatory testing” and optional counselling.
Canadian university players entering the league through the draft are subject to the same policy. And when five of them at this year's pre-draft combine were found to be doping, up from one a year ago, a leading player agent and university head coach sounded the alarm in a Winnipeg Sun story last month.
Orridge couldn't say if the CFL will at least match what the NFL does: publicly identifying first-time offenders and suspending them for four games.
“We're open to change,” he said. “We can't do it on our own. We have to do it in partnership with our players. And we're very serious about it and very committed to it.”
A spokesman for Flory said the CFLPA boss would provide no further comments than what were in the official release, which indicated a desire to work with the league in “examining, updating and strengthening” the policy in some key areas “in a way that works for us.”
The players and league tout the effectiveness of the policy by saying there has yet to be a second positive test and subsequent suspension.
Yet, the lack of an independent and transparent results-management process, one of the tenets of an effective anti-doping system, raises questions about the authenticity of the claim.
“We know that because the people who are privy to that information are trustworthy,” Orridge said. “And if you ask CCES, if you ask the laboratory... they would all corroborate that.”
In fact, WADA-accredited lab boss Christiane Ayotte could not confirm that on Wednesday.
The lack of independent and transparent results management was one of the reasons Ayotte said last month she had no choice but to stop accepting CFL samples for testing.
CCES president/CEO Paul Melia said Wednesday he couldn't talk about the CFL results specifically, but pointed to a need for openness in any management of test results.
“If there is no transparency and there is no accountability, then it's difficult for people on the outside to know what to believe and not to believe,” Melia said.
The CFL's test results have been managed by the league.
Orridge's description of the CCES and the Quebec-based lab as people to trust comes two weeks after he cut ties with them due to a lack of same, after Ayotte went public with her concerns in the Sun.
“You have to have a trusted partner in any relationship,” Orridge said Wednesday. “And when the trust is breached, you have to take appropriate action.”
The CFL's reaction was to take its program south of the border.
“We've been in discussions with other organizations, some of which are actually involved with drug testing,” Orridge said. “Both accredited and non-accredited. We're exploring those options right now.”
Melia says it's unfortunate the “dust” stirred up over the issue overshadowed the real issue, the health and safety of players, going so far as to apologize to the league for Ayotte's comments and the role they played in the split.
“If they develop a stronger policy and it protects the rights of their clean athletes to a fair and safe sport, then some good will have come of this,” Melia said. “But we sincerely would have hoped that we could have had a made-in-Canada approach to this problem.”