Possible World Cup Clears Drug Hurdle

By Alan Schwarz
May 17, 2004

A world-cup style tournament for baseball cleared perhaps its tallest hurdle when Major League Baseball, the Players Association and the International Baseball Federation agreed on a drug-testing policy for participating players.

The procedure is consistent with the more stringent guidelines set by the World Anti-Doping Agency and used in the Olympics, which beyond steroids, cocaine and such forbid the use of human growth hormone and androstenedione. Those substances are not banned within the drug-testing agreement between the players and MLB.

MLB officials signaled that the accord paved the way for a gala international tournament in mid-March 2005. “The drug-testing agreement,” commissioner Bud Selig said, “allows us the opportunity to stage a true world cup that will showcase our sport to the entire world. This is a great opportunity to grow the game.”

Players Association officials indicated that players were willing to agree to the more strict guidelines in large part because their participation in the tournament would be voluntary.

It is commonly believed among baseball insiders that the tournament, which may or may not be called the World Cup, will feature teams representing 16 countries and be hosted primarily by the United States. Details have not been announced while MLB and the MLBPA discuss them with various international baseball bodies, particularly those in Japan and Korea.

While the announcement of a drug-testing agreement virtually assured the staging of a tournament, several players who might be asked to participate expressed some knee-jerk reservations.

Yankees catcher Jorge Posada told The New York Times, “I'm not going to stop taking something, vitamins or creatine, just to go play five or six games.” (Those substances are not banned.) Others, such as Yankees slugger Gary Sheffield, doubted that clubs paying players millions of dollars a month would allow them to participate and risk injury just before the start of the season.

Players Association general counsel Mike Weiner responded by saying the union would make sure that all players know the exact terms of the drug-testing agreement as soon as possible. He also expressed confidence that most of the players asked to participate would be given the go-ahead by their clubs.

“We will inform the players to the best of our ability,” Weiner said of the anti-doping elements. “I believe that if we can put a tournament together that has the support of both the Commissioner's Office and the Players Association, we will get players who are selected to play.”

The drug-testing agreement between MLB and the players union concerned only any world cup-style tournament. Negotiations between the two sides regarding more stringent testing for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs are continuing.