Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Surely, this isn’t what the Canadian Hockey League had in mind when it entered into an agreement with the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport that involved random drug testing of its athletes.
Surely, the CHL was looking for something more than what has been dropped in its lap.
In the last couple of weeks, the CCES has announced positive tests for three CHL players, each of whom was suspended for eight games, which is the penalty for a first-time offender.
No matter the crime. No matter the intent. Test positive and you’re gone for eight games. A press release is issued and you are branded for life. You are a cheat . . . a user of stimulants . . . a user of PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) . . . a Ben Johnson on skates. Googler you name and you’ll come up positive.
And that is really, really too bad.
Each of the three players tested positive for the same thing, a stimulant known as methylhexaneamine. Each, it seems, ingested it in the same fashion, through a supplement purchased over the counter. Of this there doesn’t seem to be any doubt.
In the case of forward Spencer Asuchak of the Prince George Cougars, whose suspension was announced Monday, he purchases his supplements in his hometown of Kamloops.
Asuchak, a 19-year-old forward, told the Prince George Citizen that he used Jack3d over the summer and Razor 8 in December. According to Jason Peters of the Citizen, Asuchak “mixed them with water prior to workout sessions to give himself an energy boost.“
Asuchak told Peters that he is “pretty upset.”
“I’ll get through it,” Asuchak said. “It happens -- you make mistakes and learn from them.”
Asuchak has 24 points, including 15 goals, in 42 games with the Cougars this season. He will be eligible to play again on Feb. 8 when the Cougars are scheduled to meet the Oil Kings in Edmonton.
But, sheesh, there are MISTAKES and then there are mistakes. And this was a molehill of a mistake.
Asuchak is a bit of a fitness/workout guy. He takes great pride in his workouts and his physique. Yes, he has heard the whispers, that he must be on something steroidish. But when he was selected for testing on Dec. 17 he wasn’t at all concerned. Why not? Because he knew that the four or five different pre-workout supplements he was using were fine. They all had checked out against the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of prohibited substances.
Unfortunately, the WADA list that Asuchak was using was issued on Jan. 1, 2009. What he didn’t know was that methylhexaneamine didn’t appear on the WADA list until Jan. 1, 2010.
But, earlier this month, WADA again changed the status of methylhexaneamine. WADA issues an updated list on Jan. 1 of each year. The 2011 list has methylhexaneamine moved from its non-specified list, where it first appeared on Jan. 1, 2010, to its specified list.
This explanation appears on WADA’s website:
"During the course of 2010, the anti-doping community noticed evidence that (methylhexaneamine) had reappeared in a number of nutritional supplements and was therefore subject to potential inadvertent use by athletes.
"While athletes are responsible for everything they use under the strict liability principle applied in the fight against doping, international experts forming the agency's scientific committees took this reality into account to reclassify methylhexaneamine into the 'specified stimulants' category of the 2011 list.
"Generally speaking, 'specified substances' are substances that are more susceptible to a credible, non-doping explanation.
"If the athlete can prove that he or she did not intend to enhance performance by using them to the satisfaction of the results management authority, the sanction under the world anti-doping code can go from a two-year ban to a warning."
There already have been instances of athletes receiving lighter sentences after testing positive for methylhexaneamine. For example, positives tests during the Commonwealth Games last year resulted in 11 athletes being disciplined, but all of those suspensions since have been overturned.
As well, there are a couple of South African rugby players in the process of appealing bans. That story is right here.
In the meantime, Asuchak didn’t even know what methylhexaneamine was or what its use is. Rather, I’m told, he was using supplements for creatine, caffeine, beta alinine and arginine -- creatine for building muscle, arginine for the pump, and caffeine for the energy.
Asuchak knew what was coming when he heard on Jan. 14 that two OHL players -- Alexander Aleardi of the Plymouth Whalers and Ryan O’Connor of the Saginaw Spirit -- had tested positive after using Jack3d and had been suspended. Asuchak knew immediately that his test would be positive.
(As it turned out, the teams were given advance notice. Aleardi, for example, served his entire suspension prior to it even being announced. Observers were under the impression that he was out with the dreaded upper body injury. When Asuchak’s suspension was announced Monday, he already had served three games because the Cougars had been informed of the positive test on Wednesday.)
It used to be caffeine. I remember covering the Regina Pats when one of their players would make half-a-dozen pregame visits to the scout/media room for coffee. He would drink at least six cups before going out for the pregame warmup. Then came the Sudafed era.
And now we’re into PEDs. Hey, I’m all for drug testing for PEDs. And I’m all for athletes being responsible for what goes into their bodies, and all of that stuff. But these are junior hockey players we’re talking about here. Yes, WHL teams work constantly to educate their players on PEDs and supplements and all of that, but there has to be some kind of warning system in place.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, Ron Robison, the WHL commissioner and CHL vice-president, is quoted thusly: “In reviewing this matter, we are completely satisfied that the player used a supplement which had been purchased over the counter at a retail outlet and had no knowledge that it contained a prohibited stimulant under our national CHL Anti-Doping Policy.”
In a Jan. 14 statement announcing that the two OHL players had tested positive, CHL president David Branch, who also is the OHL commissioner, was quoted as saying: “We are completely satisfied that the players used a supplement which they had purchased over the counter at a local retail outlet and had no knowledge that it contained a stimulant.”
Never mind that both statements are virtually the same. It is most evident that there was no intent to cheat. There was no intent to gain a competitive advantage. These would appear to be clear-cut cases of inadvertent use.
That being the case, it behooves the adults who are responsible to change this policy before more damage is done. It is time to consider the intent in these situations and to turn potential eight-game suspensions into warnings.

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