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Costs limit number of drug tests for football players

Players gather in the dressing room after a press conference by the football players of the University of Waterloo Warriors football team.

DAVE CHIDLEY/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The battle against performance-enhancing drugs continues in Canadian Interuniversity Sport football, but this season it will be fought with almost 400 fewer tests due to cost and other factors.

Given a limited budget and the increased testing done for the London Olympics and Paralympics, the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport has had to cut back on its plans for CIS football, a sport that has produced the bulk of positive drug tests in university athletics.

Last season, the CCES tested more than 500 football players across the country with Sport Canada providing the funding along with a one-time financial boost. This season, only 100 tests will be done, a sizable drop from the recommendations made after the 2010 University of Waterloo drug scandal.

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After nine Waterloo football players were sanctioned for steroid-related offences, a national task force issued a report last June calling for testing "up to 30 per cent of the total number of all participating players per year …" That would be about 500 players, in and out of season. Informed of the testing cutbacks for 2012, Waterloo athletic director Bob Copeland was not impressed.

"I understand the CCES is between a rock and a hard place," Copeland said. "They have to implement programs on the funding they receive. But it's a large step backward. With 500 tests, there were still football schools in Canada that had positives. If you're having positive tests after what happened at Waterloo, what do you think will happen with less testing?"

Since 2010, enhanced drug testing has produced multiple positives from every athletic conference in the CIS.

Paul Melia, CCES president and CEO, was asked about fewer tests for this season and admitted it was "a little bit of a dilemma to respond. I don't want to send a signal to the CIS, particularly football, about our process so that our unpredictability of testing is taken away."

Instead, Melia spoke of the need for sponsors, sports organizations and others to join the anti-doping cause to help offset escalating costs. A World Anti-Doping Agency test can run between $500 and $800, depending on protocol and arbitration fees, and is becoming more complicated by the year.

"It's not unusual that we're trying to get more funds," Melia said. "Sport Canada's emphasis needs to be on Olympic-level testing and this was an Olympic year. At the same time, we uncovered the problems at Waterloo and that showed testing and education is important. … Unfortunately, we don't have other partners stepping forward."

The Canadian Football League has been doing its part by testing the 80 top university athletes prior to the Canadian draft. The CCES and CIS are discussing ways to screen athletes without using the WADA-standard drug test. One possibility is using a less stringent test that may identify a need for more advanced testing.

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"The question is, do we need to apply the WADA-standard test?" Copeland said. "That discussion was met with significant resistance because of our system. There's one test across the board, it's the best test in the world. But it's really a can-we-have-our-cake-and-eat-it-too situation. If we can't afford it, we need to look at another test at the CIS level."

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Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. More

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