SII Focus 2 September 2016

The World Cup of Hockey, meldonium & testing outside the US

None of the four major US sporting leagues – Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL) or the National Football League (NFL) are signatories to the World Anti-Doping Code. However, the MLB, NBA and NHL are affiliated to international federations that are Code signatories. Such international federations and national anti-doping organisations (NADOs) therefore face issues in testing athletes when US players compete outside the US, due to a ‘grey area’ within the World Anti-Doping Code.

Article 5.3 of the World Anti-Doping Code covers event testing. It reads: ‘Except as otherwise provided below, only a single organization should be responsible for initiating and directing testing at event venues during an event Period. At International events, the collection of Samples shall be initiated and directed by the international organization which is the ruling body for the event (e.g., the international Olympic Committee for the Olympic games, the international Federation for a World Championship, and the Pan-American Sports Organization for the Pan American Games). At national events, the collection of Samples shall be initiated and directed by the national anti-doping organization of that country. At the request of the ruling body for an event, any testing during the event Period outside of the event venues shall be coordinated with that ruling body.’

‘If an anti-doping organization which would otherwise have testing authority but is not responsible for initiating and directing testing at an event desires to conduct testing of athletes at the event venues during the event Period, the anti-doping organization shall first confer with the ruling body of the event to obtain permission to conduct and coordinate such testing’, it continues. ‘If the anti-doping organization is not satisfied with the response from the ruling body of the event, the anti-doping organization may, in accordance with procedures published by Wada, ask Wada for permission to conduct testing and to determine how to coordinate such testing. Wada shall not grant approval for such testing before consulting with and informing the ruling body for the event.’

From this, it is not clear is what should happen if a Code non-signatory – such as the MLB, NBA, NHL or NFL – is organising a tournament. Is the international federation free to conduct tests on the US players, or must it leave them out of its testing programme? It could be argued that leaving US players out of the programme is unfair on other nations, whose players have to comply with WADA’s Prohibited List and Code. Where this becomes particularly complicated – as the World Cup of Hockey is discovering – is when US players travel overseas for training camps.

World Cup of Hockey

The World Cup of Hockey takes place in Toronto from 17 September to 1 October, however when Finland players gather for a training camp on 4 September, the Finland Anti-Doping Agency (FINADA) is not supposed to test any of the players. This applies to both Finland-based players and Finnish players who compete in the NHL. It is because the World Cup of Hockey is managed by the NHL, which said that NHL anti-doping policies would be used in a statement issued on 9 September last year.

The NHL is not a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code, and so its players are tested under NHL policies. It is understood that the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) is concerned that testing at the camps could lead to players not normally governed by the World Anti-Doping Code testing positive, at a training camp for a tournament that will not be governed by the Code. This is understandable. A Google search only returns criticism of the NHL’s anti-doping policy, which couldn’t be found either on its internet site or on Google.

The NHL Performance Enhancing Substances Program can be found in Article 47 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NHL and NHLPA, on page 188. It mandates that the Program Committee must ‘review the then-current WADA list of prohibited performance enhancing and make recommendations to the NHL and NHLPA as to which performance substances on the WADA list are relevant to the sport of hockey and should be deemed Prohibited Substances, and added to (or removed from) the Prohibited Substances List, under the Program’. However, the NHL list of Prohibited Substances does not appear to be accessible on the internet.

This places FINADA in a difficult position. As the above article dictates, at ‘national events’, which the upcoming training camp arguably is, it is responsible for testing. It also mandates that any testing outside of the event venues should be ‘coordinated with that ruling body’. However the NHL has told FINADA that it should not test players taking part in the training camp.

“According to Finland’s Anti-Doping Code, FINADA can test players at the training camp in Finland, but not at the World Cup of Hockey, as in-competition controls will be used”, a FINADA spokesperson told The Sports Integrity Initiative in March. However, what will happen if players refuse a NADO test at a training camp remains unclear. “Our understanding is this is an NHL-run event so we would suggest contacting the NHL directly”, said a WADA spokesperson. No reply was received from the NHL. 

This could also prove to be an issue in the Czech Republic, Sweden and Russia. Training camps are scheduled for Gothenburg, Prague and St. Petersburg as well as Helsinki and given the current anti-doping climate, it is likely that NADOs in those countries are going to want to test players – especially those who compete in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League. NADOs will also be keen to test players who compete in the NHL, given that there have only been four NHL doping cases in the last ten years.

Perception of double standards

As previously mentioned, it appears to be impossible to find information on what substances are prohibited for NHL players on the internet. As the List is not easily accessible and given the scant history of NHL doping cases, this creates the perception amongst World Cup of Hockey teams and players that NHL players are bound by less stringent rules than those that their players are subject to. The perception is that NHL players are being protected and non North American players are being unfairly targeted. This will not be helped by recent reports that the NHL has added meldonium to the Prohibited List that will be in place at the World Cup of Hockey – just over a fortnight before the tournament is due to begin.

As mentioned, the NHL appears to be concerned that NADO testing at training camps would lead players to test positive at a training camp for a tournament that is not governed by the Code. Like to much in modern sport, one of the reasons why the NHL is keen for the World Cup of Hockey to be conducted under its own anti-doping rules appears to lie in federation politics.

The World Cup of Hockey was inaugurated in 1996 as a replacement for the Canada Cup, which ran from 1976 to 1991. The IIHF has run the Ice Hockey World Championships since 1920, however this takes place at the same time as the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, which means that many of the NHL players do not participate. The World Cup of Hockey is held every four years, prior to the NHL season and therefore involves the NHL players.

The World Cup of Hockey is the NHL’s international showcase tournament. As such, it appears to be one in which the NHL is keen for its players to shine.

Other sports

The NHL is not alone in this US regarding the issue of testing players who are not subject to the World Anti-Doping Code when they travel overseas. Next year, the World Baseball Classic will take place, sanctioned by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF). “We crossed this bridge years ago, when we hosted the first tournament”, explains Dan Halem, Chief Legal Officer at Major League Baseball (MLB). “The countries are members of the international baseball federation, so the testing is conducted under their rules. Because it is an international tournament, they are tested through the IBAF. If a player tests positive, even if they are a professional player in our league, they are still subject to WADA sanctions. However, we would discipline them independently.”

Halem also shed some light on why the major US sports are not Code signatories. “I think that having the flexibility to design our programme the way that we think it should be designed in our sport means that we have a stronger programme”, he said. “We meet with WADA and USADA on a regular basis to share information and cooperate. A lot of the criticism about why we didn’t adopt the WADA Code was back in the 2005/6 era, and we’ve evolved. Our programme is certainly one of the strongest programmes in the whole world in terms of PEDs. We spend over $10 million per year just on the analytical portion of it. We put a lot of time and money into it.”

“Resources are key”, continues Halem. “Now that we’re more involved and interactive with the anti-doping community, I can see that the biggest challenge, globally, is to have enough resources for these organisations to do what they need to do. Testing is half of it, but you need investigative capacity. I assume that most organisations don’t have an investigative arm. But funding investigations is hugely important. We are a founding member of the Partnership for Clean Competition (PCC), WADA funds research and more needs to be funded. Private enterprise are not incentivised to conduct research, so the focus has to be on the organisations within sport to do it. We do see it as our responsibility to give back in that way.”

Interestingly, it was the PCC that pushed for meldonium – primary a drug used in eastern European countries – to be included on WADA’s 2016 Prohibited List. “The PCC, which we sit on, authorised our research which led to meldonium being a substance banned by WADA”, explains Halem. It did this through its Micro-Grant Programme, which funded research by Dr. Mario Thevis into the use of meldonium in sport, which led to its inclusion on the 2016 Prohibited List.


Russia is a major contender at the World Cup of Hockey…

Training camps for the World Cup of Hockey begin next week, and it will be interesting to see if NADOs in the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia and Sweden attempt to test players. The NHL’s decision to add meldonium to its List of prohibited substances shortly before the tournament is due to take place will not go down well in Russia, given that we know meldonium is available over the counter in eastern European countries, and is widely taken as an ‘insurance policy’ against heart attacks when exercising.

Canada and the US’s main rival in the World Cup of Hockey is – of course – Russia. Questions will be asked as to why the NHL has taken its decision to add meldonium to its List now, given that it was alerted to its widespread use in Russia when the country withdrew its entire squad from the men’s U18 World Championship, which took place in North Dakota in April. WADA’s Prohibited List was in force for that tournament, as it was organised by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) rather than the NHL. The Russian Ice Hockey Federation (RIHF) is understood to have taken the decision due to concerns that the team would test positive for meldonium.

Yet the NHL, which knew the World Cup of Hockey was approaching, waited until now to announce that it would feature on its List. You can imagine how this must appear to other countries competing in the tournament, especially Russia. NADOs may well be twitching to test the NHL players competing at the training camps commencing next week. It will be interesting to see what happens if they do test an NHL player, or if an NHL player refuses a test.

WADA has had a lot on its plate recently, yet once again it appears to have failed to take the lead on the developing situation around the World Cup of Hockey, of which it has been aware for some time. When contacted by The Sports Integrity Initiative back in March, FINADA said that WADA was in negotiations with the NHL and that there would be clarification on the issue of training camp testing in the Spring. It appears that clarification never arrived.

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