Dick Pound says Georges Laraque’s allegations about performance-enhancing drugs in the NHL reinforce what he himself said six years ago.
Pound, then president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, raised eyebrows in November 2005, when he said as many as a third of NHL players were using some kind of performance-enhancing drug.
Laraque, a retired hockey enforcer, wrote in his new book that he knew players, not just tough guys, who used steroids and stimulants while he was in the league.
“Anybody who pays attention to these things already knew that,” Pound said Monday from his Montreal law office. “The only organization in denial was the NHL.”
Pound’s 2005 assertions brought vehement denials from the NHL, the Players’ Association and some players.
Pound has been an International Olympic Committee member for 33 years. He’ll be inducted into the Canada’s Sports Hall Of Fame in Calgary as a builder Tuesday alongside hockey star Ray Bourque, CFL kicker Lui Passaglia, soccer player Andrea Neil, triathlete Peter Reid and Paralympian Lauren Woolstencroft.
While president of WADA from its inception in 1999 to 2007, Pound publicly singled out sports organizations he thought turned a blind eye to doping by their athletes.
Laraque, who retired in 2010 after playing almost 700 career games, writes in “The Story of the NHL’s Unlikeliest Tough Guy” that the NHL only began policing drugs in his final years in the league.
Pound isn’t sure it’s working.
“When you see some of the stuff occurring on the rinks these days, you don’t know whether you’re dealing with people who are playing the game in a steroid rage or not, but some of these head shots are not accidents,” he said.
The NHL and NHLPA agreed on a drug testing policy in their collective bargaining agreement in July 2005 after the lockout of 2004-05.
A first offence is a 20-game suspension and referral to the league’s behavioural health program. The second is a 60-game suspension. A third violation is a permanent suspension with the right to apply for reinstatement after two years.
Defenceman Sean Hill is the only player to be suspended under the policy. He served a 20-game ban in 2007 when he played for the New York Islanders.
Colorado Avalanche goalie Jose Theodore and Islanders defenceman Bryan Berard failed out-of-competition tests in 2005, but neither was suspended by the NHL because its drug policy didn’t take effect until Jan. 15, 2006.
Pound maintains there is a gaping hole in the NHL’s drug strategy because players are tested only during the pre-season and regular season.
“They still don’t test in the off-season,” Pound said. “If you’ve got an IQ higher than room temperature, you know they can do this program for a number of weeks and have the stuff all flushed out of your system and still get the benefit of it.
“If you know you’re not getting tested before the season begins, it’s an invitation to do it in the off-season.”
According to the PA’s website, testing is conducted by a private lab out of California, which Pound says is not arm’s length enough.
“It’s not being independently done,” he said. “The NHL is doing their own testing.”
The NHL tests players for substances on WADA’s banned list except for human growth hormone. The NHL won’t include HGH until it is negotiated into a new collective bargaining agreement. The NFL and Major League Baseball are also still working on testing for HGH.
The NHLPA told The Canadian Press on Monday that performance-enhancing drugs are “an area that will be reviewed as part of the upcoming CBA talks between the league and the NHLPA.”
Laraque doesn’t identify players who used steroids in his book and indicated there was a code of silence around the subject in the dressing room.
“It was true that quite a lot of them did use this drug, but other, more talented players did too,” he wrote. “Most of us knew who they were, but not a single player, not even me, would ever think of raising his hand to break the silence and accuse a fellow player.”
Pound still finds athlete secrecy around the issue frustrating.
“One of the most disappointing things I found in WADA was the reluctance of athletes who are being cheated out of what their performance deserves to say anything about it,” he lamented. “They just sort of take it. The organizations are much more vicious with the whistle blowers than they are with the folks using the drugs.”
But Toronto Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said Monday he’s never witnessed evidence of players on performance-enhancing drugs.
“I was in the dressing room pre-lockout for training camp. Never heard (about it) nor saw it,” Phaneuf said. “I’ve never, ever seen it.”
Ottawa Senators centre Zenon Konopka was surprised by Laraque’s assertions about the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the NHL and questioned the validity of those statements.
“I don’t know what his reasons are to define it as a problem, but it’s like most things in life that people don’t get enough information and shoot their mouth off about something before they get all their facts,” Konopka said.
“I think Georges probably should have done a little more fact-finding himself before making comments that maybe he’ll regret.”
Pound says his statement six years ago was based on information gathered from players, referees, coaches and doctors.
“It’s sort of anecdotal, but very consistent,” he said.
While Pound wonders if Laraque will be shunned by the hockey community because of some of the contents of his book, the former IOC vice-president hopes the book gets read.
“If people read it and buy into it, that would be great,” Pound said. “You throw the challenge up to the NHL and say ‘OK, you guys have been saying there’s no problem here. Here’s written evidence that there is. What are you going to do about it?’
“It will be very interesting to see what (NHL commissioner Gary) Bettman would say about that.”
Bettman himself has acknowledged the need for better testing. Prior to the 2009 Stanley Cup final, the NHL commissioner said during his state of the league address that he was in favour of year-round testing and an expanded list of banned substances.
However, a deal with former NHLPA boss Paul Kelly was never reached.
The NHL did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Laraque’s drug allegations.
Chris Johnston in Toronto and Lisa Wallace in Ottawa contributed to this story.