Puns out of the way, we are hearing about more and more doping cases being injected (okay, I had one more..) into the frontline news, but we rarely hear of such incidents within Hockey.
Most of us by now are sick and tired of hearing about the NHL and the fact that players will not be allowed to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics, but more recent stories are turning up surrounding Hockey players and scandals involving performance-enhancing drugs.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recently released the news that six players from the Russia Women’s team have been banned due to “unprecedented systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping regulations set in place by said committee. The players affected include:
Inna Dyubanok, Ekaterina Lebedeva, Ekaterina Pashkevich, Anna Shibanova, Galina Skiba, and Ekaterina Smolentseva.
The team finished sixth in the last Winter Olympics which was played on home turf.
The NHL has a stringent policy against the use of performance-enhancing drugs. To those of us unfamiliar with the particulars of this policy, here are the key, note-worthy points of interest:
Testing: Every NHL player is tested twice a year with no-notice given.
Strike one: 20 game suspension (without pay) and a referral to the league’s Substance Abuse/Behavioural Health program.
Strike two: 60 game suspension (again, no pay)
Strike three: YOOUUURR OUTT (for two years..) but it is no walk in the park to get back in. You will have to face a committee with a physician from each parties choosing to decide upon your fate.
With such a policy in place, it is surprising to see such a small number of incidents in comparison to other major league sports.
The first case resulting in a suspension was that of Islander’s Sean Hill which could have been a contribution to the Islanders losing in the Stanley Cup quarterfinals in 2007.
The second suspension was awarded to Zenon Konopka in 2014 for the misuse of the steroid ‘Dehydroepiandrosterone’ which was awkwardly used on a doctors suggestion.
That is a gap of seven seasons between official suspensions. I am aware that since then we have seen a few more violations of the NHL’s policy but is there something the league is missing?
The answer may well be simpler than we think. The NHL has only started to focus on the use of recreational drugs. NOW, it is important to note that these are not explicitly performance-enhancing. Let us not get ahead of ourselves and think that if Lundqvist smoked a quick joint before a Rangers game he would be hitting 20,000 career saves this year.
However, we shouldn’t be turning a blind eye to the use of recreational drugs. More importantly, I mean Cocaine. It is well-known that players have been using Cocaine during their NHL careers. Substance abuse in any situation is an issue due to the physical and mental implications it can have for the individual.
The reasons for the abuse of substances in the NHL can only be speculated upon. It can be hard to understand the stress that playing in a pro-league can have on an individual. The stress and weight of not losing out on what you have fought your entire career for. We see cases of NHL players being moved down to the AHL and with such, there is a constant pressure of having to outperform yourself every season to stay in the league.
The NHL this season is testing all players for Cocaine. The naivety in this plan is that individuals know that there is a growing number of users within the league but the people in power seem to be turning a blind eye to these statistics. With comments stating ‘Cocaine is cyclical’ and an ‘in drug’ appear to shrug off the implications of why players are taking the drug rather than addressing the long-term issues this can create.
It is only if a players urine sample comes back with alarming levels of Cocaine that they will address the issue and question the individual as to whether there is an issue.
The NHL needs to implement a stronger policy in regards to recreational drug use. Not because it may have an effect on the sport but rather that they need to be taking better care of their players. These players give their entire structure to play the sport we all love and with such come intense pressures.