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CFL players’ contracts put the block on drug testing, top referee says

Under current contracts, players cannot be tested for banned substances. Tom Higgins, director of officiating for the CFL since April 2008, admits that if players are using steroids, there’s nothing the league can do to stop it.

“If a player is suspected to be using drugs, we can’t act,” he said. “We are not allowed to test for anything (drugs) if the player doesn’t tell you about it.”

The current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of the 2009 season. Only then will the CFL have an opportunity to make drug testing mandatory

Stu Laird, the president of the Canadian Football League Players’ Association (CFLPA), said players aren’t tested for a reason.

“It’s not a privacy issue,” he said. “It’s obviously a cost issue. Who would pay for the tests?”

Laird said that players are not opposed to drug testing; they just don’t feel they should carry the burden of paying for the tests.

Professional athletes in Canada, excluding those playing in the major leagues, are tested for drugs by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). Rosemary Pitfield, the director of communications for the CCES, said that drug tests, including urine sample tests, are typically financed by the leagues themselves.

“(A urine sample test) can range upwards of $500 per athlete depending on what they are screening for,” she said.

She also said the federal government does provide some funding, but only for events such as the Olympics.

Higgins said players shouldn’t risk their health by doping, since the expected career lifespan of a professional football player is only 3.5 years. For now, all the league can do is educate its current and future players not to take drugs.

Laird says the CFLPA is holding seminars for its members to educate them about using drugs. He did speculate about the likelihood performance-enhancing drug use in the CFL.

“It’s entirely possible,” he said. “We bring in physicians who talk about long-term health effects, as well as an RCMP officer to talk about the legal aspect of drug use.”

Filed by Brad Pritchard