Integrity Week: Anti-Doping
by staff|15 DEC 2022
Brandon Kozun during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Sometimes, taking an anti-doping stance in sports doesn’t just mean avoiding the use of performance-enhancing drugs. It requires all-around awareness as an athlete.

Doping-related suspensions of any sort can have a devastating impact on a hockey player’s career.

Brandon Kozun was coming off his best pro season with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl in 2016-17 when the Canadian forward faced the toughest off-ice challenge of his career.

On the verge of representing his country at the Channel One Cup in Moscow in December 2017, Kozun was scheduled to take a doping test. But the 2010 IIHF World Junior silver medalist – an aspiring 2018 Olympian – was pressured to not take the test, and the resulting suspension could have cost him his career, even though he had not taken any performance-enhancing drugs.
“There was an incident with a doping officer and one of the leading managers of the team,” Kozun explained. “It turned into a little bit of a power struggle between the two people, and essentially led to me being charged with a doping offence. At the time, I didn’t feel like I was in the proper position to be questioning my senior manager and I didn’t feel I had the option to not trust the people who were supposed to be looking out for me.”

He was charged with a violation of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Code Article 2.3 – Failure to Submit to Sample Collection. reported what happened next: “Kozun was initially cleared of an ADRV by the IIHF Disciplinary Board, but the decision was appealed by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Following a settlement agreed upon between Kozun, WADA, and the IIHF, Kozun accepted a one-year suspension.”

Due to the timing of events, Kozun was able to fulfill a dream by competing at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, where he helped Canada earn the bronze medal. His suspension – announced in April 2019 – was backdated to 15 March, 2018, meaning that Kozun could continue to play hockey.
However, according to the 32-year-old former Calgary Hitmen star, the whole sequence of events still felt like “an atomic bomb” had gone off in his life. He struggled to put trust in authority figures. His on-ice performance suffered as he ran into more injuries. Even the waiting game prior to learning the length of his suspension took a mental toll.

“There aren’t many guys who come back from a potential four-year suspension, not to mention a guy who has 20 NHL games,” admitted Kozun, who suited up for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2014-15. “I have a good resume, but not exactly Sidney Crosby’s.”

Back when management alleged to Kozun that the doping officer in question had broken rules and was not fit to give him the drug test, Kozun felt as if he didn’t have a voice to push back. He didn’t want to kiss his Olympic dream goodbye.

“I really wanted to be on that [2018] Olympic team. It had been a very stressful season with a lot of ups and downs. I didn’t feel like I had a voice. There was pretty much no choice at that point.”
What would he tell himself if he could go back in time to 2017?

“Just take a second and think about it,” Kozun said. “Understand what’s at stake. Understand that at the end of the day, there’s a piece of you that needs to look out for yourself. You don’t always have to follow orders every single moment. You’re allowed to have a voice.”

Truly, both education and the freedom to speak up when something’s not right are essential. If you are a player, be aware of what you put in your body. And know the rules about drug testing – both during the season and in international competition – and be prepared to respect and follow them. The IIHF offers extensive resources on this subject.

Some of these guidelines may seem self-explanatory, but remember: drug violations have seen well-known players receive multi-ban years from IIHF competition and led directly to Russia’s inability to compete under its national flag at the last two Winter Olympics. That’s just to name a few sanctions.

Coaches, trainers, and managers must support an environment of openness and transparency, encouraging players to speak up if they are facing pressure or temptation to take performance-enhancing drugs. Team doctors at the club and IIHF levels need to give players the proper guidance to say no to doping and ensure they are prepared to pass drug tests honestly and cleanly.

Four-time NHL scoring champion Connor McDavid noted in an ESPN interview: “I think of how many times I take a shake from a trainer [and] I don’t even ask what’s in it. That doesn’t mean that I’m using PEDs. It just means I trust that person, and sometimes people abuse that trust.”

The range of banned substances includes but is not limited to anabolic steroids, human growth hormone, erythropoietin (EPO), beta-blockers, and other illegal stimulants. When you take them, the consequences to your reputation, career, and health can be devastating.

Yet as Kozun’s story shows, even players who do not use drugs need to be aware of anti-doping rules in order to avoid serious problems.

“I’d never taken a drug in my life,” Kozun noted. “I’ve never taken a puff of a cigarette in my life! The main goal is to raise some awareness so that if anyone is ever in this position again, it doesn’t happen to them.”

The IIHF’s aim is to make hockey the cleanest sport in the world. The IIHF, in partnership with our Member National Associations (MNAs), is committed to investigating all incidents related to anti-doping measures and any violations that are reported in a transparent and fair manner. Confidentiality, impartiality, respect, and integrity are our watchwords.

Remember: if you hear something, if you see something – say something.

Incidents can be reported via:
IIHF Reporting Form
Email: [email protected]
The IOC hotline:
Phone: +41445622293
Mail to IIHF headquarters: Brandschenkestrasse 50, Postfach 1817, 8027 Zurich, Switzerland
Anonymous reporting is possible.
For reports with an international dimension, the IIHF creates a case that is forwarded to the independent IIHF Ethics Board. The board weighs the preponderance of evidence and decides whether or not to refer the case to the IIHF Disciplinary Board. Appeals can only be made to CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) directly.