By Steve Keating
NEW YORK (Reuters) - National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) chief DeMaurice Smith praised the drug policy negotiated with the league as the gold standard in North American professional sport on Thursday, despite continuing to drag its feet on testing for human growth hormone (HGH).
When the league and players agreed a new labor deal in July 2011, the NFL's decision to include a blood test for HGH was hailed as major break-through in the fight against performance-enhancing drugs in U.S. professional sports.
The NFL, however, still does not test for HGH with both sides unable to come to an agreement, though Smith said they were close to a deal.
"I honestly believe that what we have negotiated is the gold standard in a drug policy because we have done things in this policy that no policy has ever done," said Smith.
"It has championed transparency, it's championed following the science, it's championed coming up with a specific standard as it relates to football players and it also envisions a world where we can constantly update or modify that and that is something, quite frankly that you don't see in any other policy.
"You certainly don't see it with WADA's policy because I'm not sure they can use the word transparent."
The NFLPA has long maintained it will not be bullied into HGH testing and wanted assurances of the validity and fairness of any test.
The union initially said it was unconvinced the testing is fool proof and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has accused them of stalling.
In the NFLPA's annual Super Bowl address ahead of Sunday's game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, Smith said that 98 percent of the details for HGH testing had been agreed upon with the only stumbling block now centering around the use of a neutral arbitrator.
"The HGH policy is done, its been done the drug policy overall is 98 percent done," said Smith.
"We both agreed to conduct a population study for HGH, we agreed the results of that population study would set a decision limit with scientific rigor about the level of normal HGH in our players' bodies.
"We've discussed and agreed upon what the fines or discipline would be, the only two remaining issues are is in the area of neutral arbitration.
"For the first time there is neutral arbitration in every aspect of the proposed drug policy. That is clearly something the player fought for and fought hard for."
Smith said the league is seeking two exceptions to the use of a neutral arbitrators; when a player has been adjudicated criminally or civilly as violating the drug policy or one where suspension is not based on a positive test but upon evidence that the player has engaged in a violation of the drug policy.
The NFLPA boss pointed to Major League Baseball's handling of the Alex Rodriguez doping case, where a neutral arbitrator handled the New York Yankee slugger's appeal of a doping suspension reducing it to the entire 2014 season.
Rodriguez, MLB's active home run leader and highest-paid player, was originally handed a 211 games ban by the league last season after he was implicated in an investigation looking into the now shuttered Florida anti-aging clinic Biogenesis that is alleged to have distributed performance enhancing drugs.
"We believe that neutral arbitration strengthens and enhances our system entirely and our players are not in favor of any of those carve outs," said Smith.
"We look forward to a world where all of our players can rejoice that their collectively bargained drug process and program is in full force."
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)