A new poll suggests that about half of Canadians believe performance-enhancing drugs are used by "many" or a "fair number" of National Hockey League players.
The Canadian Press Harris/Decima survey also indicated Canadians want to see drug cheats caught and punished, although they are split on what the sanctions should be.
The poll suggested that 17 per cent of Canadians believed many NHL players use performance-enhancing drugs while 36 per cent said a fair number used them. Thirty-two per cent felt only a few were on them and one per cent said none used them. Fourteen per cent had no opinion.
The survey also found that 35 per cent believed that many and 42 per cent felt a fair number of National Football League players used performance enhancing drugs. Only eight per cent said only a few use them and not one said none, while 15 per cent had no opinion.
The results suggest that skepticism about pro sports has set in even as fans continue to flock to stadiums and arenas to see their favourite teams play.
The poll comes in the wake of a report released Dec. 13 by former U.S. senator George Mitchell on the use of steroids and human growth hormone by major league baseball players.
The report named 88 players, including some of the sport's biggest stars, as alleged users of banned substances.
The survey found that 69 per cent of respondents felt the NHL should commission a similar study on its sport, while 18 per cent felt it wasn't needed and 13 per cent had no opinion.
The NHL has repeatedly denied that it has a problem with performance-enhancing drugs. League officials reacted with outrage when outgoing World Anti-Doping Agency president Dick Pound suggested in 2005 that a third of NHL players used banned drugs, mainly stimulants.
After the Mitchell Report was released, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said there was "no need for an independent inquiry in our sport. We have more historical evidence than baseball did that performance-enhancing drugs have never been a material part of our culture."
Only one player - Minnesota Wild defenceman Sean Hill - has been sanctioned so far for a positive test for steroids under the NHL's testing program, although some anti-doping officials have criticized the program as being lax.
Bruce Anderson, president of Harris/Decima, said some people may lump reports of recreational drug use in with stories about performance-enhancers and the cumulative effect is a feeling that drug use is common.
"That doesn't mean the integrity of the sport is involved, it's just that there's a certain skepticism," he said.
Respondents were asked how players named in the Mitchell Report should be punished.
The question produced a near saw-off - 46 per cent felt their records should be erased, while 41 per cent wanted baseball to "punish them somehow, but let their records stand."
The poll also indicated that 77 per cent of respondents were likely to feel satisfied "when those who cheat are caught and are punished," while 14 per cent felt that concern over drug use was overblown and that rules should be loosened.
"Rather than feeling fatigue with the years of stories about the use of banned substances by elite athletes, these results show Canadians think pressure should be maintained," Anderson said.
"People are not sure what the appropriate sanction should be for offenders, which suggests that when cheating is uncovered, this is bittersweet for sports fans who want to be able to cherish memories of extraordinary accomplishments. Nevertheless, the tendency is still clear: people think still more pressure is needed to create a fair, level and healthy playing field in sports, not less."
The online poll of 1,169 Canadians was conducted between Dec. 17 and Dec. 19. There is a 85 per cent probability that the results have a 3.1 percentage point margin of error.