The president of the World Anti-Doping Agency said he suspects as many as a third of the NHL's 700 players may take some form of performance-enhancing substances.

"I spoke with Gary [NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman] and he said, 'We don't have the problem in hockey,' " Dick Pound told the London (Ontario) Free Press in a story to be published today. "I told him he does. You wouldn't be far wrong if you said a third."

Asked if he meant performing-enhancing drugs, the Montreal lawyer replied, "Yes."

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly took exception to Pound's comments.

"I would respectfully suggest that Mr. Pound's comments have absolutely no basis in fact," Daly told the Canadian Press. "I find it troubling, to say the least, that he would find it necessary to comment on something he has absolutely no knowledge of.

"Perhaps Mr. Pound would be better served to limit his comments to topics as to which he has knowledge, instead of speculating on matters as to which he has none."

The NHL introduced random tests for performance-enhancing drugs in its new collective bargaining agreement. Players are subject to a minimum of two tests a year without warning. A first-time offender gets a 20-game suspension, a second offense calls for a 60-game suspension, and a third offense results in a lifetime ban.

"The NHL has reached a deal with their players that looks as though they found an early copy of the baseball policy on the floor somewhere," Pound said yesterday after addressing students at the University of Western Ontario's law school.

* SOCCER: George Best's condition has deteriorated and he is unlikely to survive another 24 hours, his doctor in London said yesterday.

"I have to tell you that his hours are numbered now," physician Roger Williams said outside Cromwell Hospital. "It is just not possible to recover."

The 59-year-old former Manchester United star, who needed a liver transplant three years ago after decades of alcohol abuse, has been in critical condition in intensive care for a week.

The former Northern Ireland star has been hospitalized with various infections since Oct. 1. His condition deteriorated last Thursday when a lung infection was diagnosed. He was put on life support yesterday.

Best, regarded as one of the game's most talented players, retired at 27. He scored 180 goals in 465 appearances for Manchester United and helped lead his team to the 1968 European Cup title.

* GOLF: Nervous at the start but encouraged by a couple of late birdies, Michelle Wie was five strokes off the lead in a men's tournament and optimistic about making the cut.

The 16-year-old Hawaiian was followed by huge galleries during her opening round of 1-over 73 at the Casio World Open in Kochi on the Japanese tour.

She had an uneven beginning with three bogeys on the Kochi Kuroshio Country Club course. Wie, who teed off from the 10th hole, regrouped with birdies on the sixth and seventh holes.

Two Japanese players, Toshimitsu Izawa and Yoshiaki Kimura, shared the lead at 68.

Wie, only the second woman to play in a Japanese men's event, clearly was the big draw. Wie is making her sixth start in a men's professional tournament.

* GYMNASTICS: Forget Russia and China, the United States has a new rival in men's gymnastics -- Japan.

Hiroyuki Tomita became the first Japanese gymnast in 31 years to win an all-around title at the world championships yesterday in Melbourne, Australia. Hisashi Mizutori of Japan took the silver and Denis Savenkov of Belarus was the surprising bronze medalist.

* PRO BASKETBALL: Clippers backup center Zeljko Rebraca has been diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and is sidelined indefinitely, the team said. . . .

Milwaukee Bucks rookie center Andrew Bogut had successful surgery on his broken nose. The Bucks said Bogut will be required to wear a protective mask for at least six weeks. He is day-to-day.

* BASEBALL: The Marlins and Red Sox completed their trade that sends ace Josh Beckett and third baseman Mike Lowell to Boston, but not before reliever Guillermo Mota was added to a deal that netted Florida four prospects. Mota is headed to Boston and minor league right-hander Harvey Garcia to the Marlins. Florida also gets top shortstop prospect Hanley Ramirez along with pitchers Anibal Sanchez and Jesus Delgado.

-- From News Services