Pound's unfounded comments will hurt his cause

Updated: December 5, 2005, 7:02 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Dick Pound's suggestion that one-third of NHL players take some form of performance enhancing drug says more about the man and his organization than it does about the NHL and its players.

Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, is already being pilloried in the Canadian media for the comments and one has to imagine that unless Pound can come up with supporting documentation, the entire organization will see much of its good work go down the drain with the Turin Olympics on the horizon.

Dick Pound
Stephen Dunn/Allsport Dick Pound told the London Free Press on Thursday that he spoke to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and told him he thought there was widespread use of performance-enhancing substances in the NHL.

The comments are ludicrous.

After all, who will take WADA's claims of problems in hockey or other sports seriously if it turns out Pound pulled his "one-third" number out of thin air? And given the data that is available, data that suggests there is nowhere near that level of abuse amongst NHLers, it appears that's exactly where Pound's numbers come from.

Calls made by ESPN.com to WADA have not yet been returned.

Although the president of the International Ice Hockey Federation Rene Fasel would not comment directly, the IIHF told ESPN.com the IIHF supports WADA's guidelines and tests according to WADA protocols at its events.

Since 1994, albeit early in the dope-testing game, "well over 3,000" tests have been conducted at IIHF events, including Olympics and World Championships, and there have been eight positive tests, a rate of approximately 0.2 percent.

During the 2003-04 season, the National Hockey League Players' Association conducted tests on virtually every player in the league as an educational dry run to prepare for what everyone expected would be a new policy on drug testing. Less than 1 percent, or fewer than seven players, tested positive.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said three NHLers have tested positive over the past 15 years at international events, one involving a painkiller used for an "acute" injury, another involved "therapeutic use" for an existing health condition which was later excused and the third was "mistaken use."

"Pound's claims are utterly baseless," Daly said.

That Pound would jeopardize WADA's work and reputation is one thing. It's his baby.

But Pound's assertions do immeasurable harm to the gains made in places like Phoenix, where the Coyotes are starting to roll under coach Wayne Gretzky, or Carolina, where the Hurricanes are making a strong case for hockey in the south, or in Toronto and Calgary and the other Canadian cities that have embraced the league in an unprecedented fashion following the lockout.

Don Cherry, the outspoken co-host of Hockey Night in Canada, blast Pound's remarks during Saturday night's broadcast.

"This guy in his position to say something like that is ridiculous," Cherry said on CBC. "[NHL commissioner] Gary Bettman has to stand up -- don't pooh-pooh this. You have to make this guy prove it.

"Take him to court, sue him. Make him prove it."

"I'm not happy with the National Hockey League," Cherry added. "The [players] are all tarred with the same brush as dopeheads. He can't come out and say something like that about our guys. We are the cleanest sport in the world."

Canadians still remember the national disgrace of sprinter Ben Johnson, the sprinter who won 100-meter gold in the 1988 Seoul only to have it stripped after testing positive for drug use.

But they are likely to more quickly dismiss Pound as an obvious attention-seeker given the rarified place hockey holds in Canadian society. But the problem is greater in the U.S., where the road to relevancy for the NHL is steeper and where the issue of steroids remains a hot-button topic.

Lumping some 230 NHLers in with Johnson or the disgraced Rafael Palmeiro does a gross disservice to the entire game.

Does the NHL have a performance-enhancing drug problem? We're about to find out. Under the new CBA, the NHL and NHLPA have been unified in taking a hard stance on abusers.

The league's new drug-testing policy kicks in on Jan. 15, after which every NHL player will be tested at least twice every season. Cheaters will be handed a 20-game suspension for a first offense, 60 games for a second and a lifetime ban on a third offense. Players who test positive will be publicly identified.

Should the penalties be harsher? That's open for debate, but it's hardly the slap on the wrist that Pound implies. And if Pound's motive was to get the NHL to rethink its policy, it was a grossly misguided strategy that shames only Pound and his agency.

Scott Burnside is an NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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