ATP Tennis 360

November 9, 2009 3:26 AM

Pros and cons of Anti-doping rules

The one-year suspension for Yanina Wickmayer and Xavier Malisse is a signal of a repressive squeeze influenced by Andre Agassi's confessions of drug-abuse


The news was in the air. Yanina Wickmayer, recent Us Open revelation, and Xavier Malisse have been suspended for an year by the Vlaams Doping Tribunal. The Belgians have been judged guilty of WADA rules breaching. The World Anti-Doping Agency obliged players to complete the ADAMS questionnaire indicating every whereabout from 6.00 to 23.00 each day for three months. Wickmayer didn't communicate three variations to her program in a period of 18 months, while Malisse was unfindable twice and once refused to complete an anti-doping control.

The news, predictable as you want, leaves open space for perplexities in at least three directions. On one side, considering the sentence about the case of Richard Gasquet and the decision (in first degree) in this lawsuit, the proportionality between the crime and the punishment seems to be not a fixed factor. Instead, it appears adaptable, in its measures and meanings, to the players' attractiveness. Because it's otherwise difficult to realize why a "bureaucratic" lacking  is four times harder than the confessed assumption of a drug, although identified as recreational like the cocaine.

And there are few doubts that the French baby-prodigy has more charisma that the tenacious Belgian with a sad infantry and her compatriot now more famous for his short love affair with Jennifer Capriati (another player involved in drug-abuse matters) than for his indisputable talent and under-achieving results, aside from his Wimbledon semifinal.


Little unreal hypothesis: what would happen if Rafa or Roger should forget twice to communicate a program change? The answer is blowing in the wind.


This strictness with the "small fishes" and parallel forgiveness towards the big names has been underlined in the shocking confessions by Andre Agassi. And it's surely not a case that this sentence is arrived so shortly after the coming out by the American champion. And when something like this happens, public opinion starts to hurl asking for head-cutting the organisms responsible for these mistakes (Atp, Itf, Wta, Wada) and leading a McCarthy's style witch-hunting climate. Everyone is suspect, every big player is doped and protected not to make people understand the toy is broken inside. So, it seems possible this strictness and severity is an answer to this atmosphere, it has the stigmate of a defensive act, of an answer to suspects of a surgical laissez-faire.


Besides from opinions and sensations, the inefficiency of anti-doping control in tennis are well documented. In 2008, according to a report published on the ITF official website, only 142 out-of-tournaments controls were completed referred to the first 130 players in the world ranking. In the same period, the International Cycling Union registered 6449 tests on more than 1000 corridors while about 500 track and fields athletes were subject to 1823 controls. This kind of analysis are essential, as Stuart Miller, the ITF anti-doping tests supervisor, underlines because there are better odds than players assumes performance-enhancing drugs during the practice or recovery periods.


The other, great, limit of these controls in the world of tennis is the absence, or at least the insufficiency, of tests revealing the assumption of EPO. The International Tennis Federation completed only 20 tests of this kind during the tournaments and 32 out from the events. But these controls are imposed only if the first screening on the blood sample indicates the possibility of drug assumption.  


The repressive squeeze by the Itf, Atp, Wta and Wada seems to be, until now, not only inefficient, but also unpopular between the players, who consider the "wandering rule" as an excessive invasion of their privacy. 


Surely the solution is not easy to find, but this is definitely not the right way to proceed, because now it has become hard to distinguish voluntary breaching of the rules from simple ingenuity or distractions. And, more, life and wanderings of a tennis player are quite impossible to predict, even for the player himself. Then, you can't think a player confess you, after a press conference, ok I'm going on holiday in Samoa for three weeks.  Can you imagine Carlos Moya saying to the WADA official: ok, tonight I'll go sleeping with my lover, but, please, don't tell it to Flavia Pennetta? Or "Mom Clijsters", who'll remain aside from the tour for six months, write all the times she goes to the supermarket or to the park?


Reperibility is important but with a glimpse of flessibility you can obtain more results. For example, if Soderling during the Roland Garros is nowhere to be found for a test, probably he has also changed hotel. You can simply call him, see where he is and do the test after half an hour. Assumed that, if at that point he escapes, he becomes immediately a suspect.


The solution, as I've already said, is hard to find. But it's absolutely counterproductive to complicate something that could be easily solved. All this apparent severity hide a sense of guilt and defeat, it's a mask of rigidity covering a black hole.

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