On Campus

Is there a really a steroid problem in university sport?

In light of more positive steroid results, CIS will triple the number of football players tested

Tuesday afternoon, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) and the Canadian Inter Interuniversity Sport (CIS) held a press conference to announce the results of drug testing done on university football players this summer. You may recall there was an avalanche of press—or what passes for an avalanche in Canadian university sport—when nine players from the University of Waterloo football team tested positive for drugs, and the university suspended the program for a year as a result.

The CIS and CCES acted quickly to alleviate fears that drugs were corrupting good young Canadians across the country, and announced it would be tripling its random testing, along with creating a Very Important Task Force (I paraphrase, slightly) to get a better long-term sense of the threat.

And to get a short-term sense of exactly how prevalent drug use really is, the CIS and CCES tested 60 university football players over May and June. The results?

Of the 60, the number of positive tests for drugs was . . . 3. One of which was for pot. So really, all things being equal, 2. Or 3.3 per cent of student-athletes in the sport most likely to use performance-enhancing drugs.

Is this a large number? With something this subjective—not to mention the margin of error with a relatively small sample size—it’s hard to say. In 2003, Major League Baseball announced that “5 to 7 percent” of all players tested positive for drugs in random, non-punishable testing, though players had a full eight months between the announcement of tests and their commencement.

No one is disputing that increased testing, especially during the offseason, is a Good Thing. Likewise, the fact that the CIS has finally stepped up and formed some sort of coherent policy—as opposed to closing their eyes and crossing their fingers—is something that should be belatedly applauded.

But given the piddling results of the tests, it’s possible that this was a Waterloo issue, rather than a giant national issue, and that the sports media may have overplayed a controversial issue about a league that they rarely cover. It’s a slight that annoys those who follow the league full time.

“When else is Sportsnet going to post anything about the CIS?” said Neate Sager, founding editor of CIS Blog, a leading blog for university sport (full disclosure: I contribute there occasionally).

In football and hockey, basketball and volleyball, soccer and field hockey, thousands of our top young student-athletes are competing their guts out, sometimes in front of thousands of fans, and sometimes in front of dozens. Regardless, it’s demeaning to them that the only national coverage they get comes only after a few bad apples from Waterloo get caught. The CIS has moved aggressively to show how serious they are about drugs, but have they cast a pall over all their teams and athletes as a result?

“The rank-and-file either don’t care, or if they’ve made their piece with it,” Sager said. “Instead of this being a three-day story for the CIS, it’s become a three-month one.”

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