ATP Tennis 360

April 20, 2010 5:52 PM

All are equal before the law. Or not?

Rules are the same for everybody. Or at least that should be. Because Wayne Odesnik case underlined all the perplesities and the shadows on Itf and Wada about their anti-doping policy.

odesnik_st.jpgThe case started last January 2 when the American player arrived in Brisbane on a Qantas flight but lost his luggage. Two days later his misplaced bags were found and police officers discovered eight vials of human growth hormone and charged Odesnik with importing HGH on January 6.

But tennis officials did nothing to take him off the court for three months.

If he had failed a doping test that wouldn't have happened, because for its rules Itf cannot suspend a player while it investigates if the suspected violation is possession of a banned substance. If, and only if, the tennis governing body find a prohibited substance in a sample can decide for a provisional suspension.

The more, the not so relevant amount of HGH (8 vials of 6 milligrams each) makes hard to accept the imagine of Wayne Odesnik as a "pusher". Professor Peter Sonksen, who teaches endocrinology at St. Thomas' Hospital and King's College in London confirmed that it correspond to a month's supply for a patient with pituitary gland disfunctions but that it wouldn't last long for an athlete assuming larger doses to accelerate recovery periods.

ESPN tennis writer Bonnie Ford read the documents of the case. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service the next day confirmed that "Among Odesnik's belongings was a box containing seven vials of six milligrams apiece of Serostim, a brand name for Somatropin, a form of biosynthetic human growth hormone. The label had been torn off the box. An eighth vial was found in a Styrofoam box in a separate plastic bag, which also held 10 syringes and several small bottles of Bacteriostatic water (sterile water containing a small amount of benzyl alcohol) which is used to dilute drugs for injection".

Suddenly caught in the middle of an offence, Odesnik tried to defend himself saying he had a doctor's prescription for HGH and that he needs assuming it to recovery from a potentially "career threatening injury". But he played 26 tournaments from January to November 2009 with no significant off-season periods and appeared fit either at the Australian Open and at the Brisbane International earlier this season. And no prescription was found.

Magistrate Graham C. Lee's ruling in the Odesnik case confirmed that the player can't ignore the law forbidding to bring HGH into Australia without a prescription, even for personal use and found him guilty.

But he continued to play before, on April 16, Odesnik agreed an auto-suspension for an undefined period. Translated, that means he could come back whenever he wants, even next week, even in Monaco or Estoril, where he's in the entry list and shortly out of the cut-off, and nobody can stop him despite the "moral suasion" by Stuart Miller, ITF anti-doping official, who said: "We hopes he'll stay out until the sentence will be released".

wada.jpgHowever, Itf looked eminently sluggish and with few concerns for fair play and regularity of events where Odesnik took part. And, ironically, in Houston he faced Xavier Malisse, suspended for a year but then acquitted after having failed to report changes in his whereabouts.

So, sic stantibus rebus a player must be unlucky or imprudent to be found positive to HGH. In fact, in six years, only the rugby player Terry Newton has been suspended, for two years, also because the HGH can be traced in the blood within 24 hours from its assumption.

When, then, the HGH is in a bag and not in the blood, nobody seems to know exactly what to do.

Odesnik, who after his limping defence strategy pleaded guilty, is risking to open a new chapter in a story of permissivism: Gasquet's "cocaine-kiss" and Wickmayer troubles with Post Office, internet providers and passwords have been considered venial and forgivable mistakes.

Substantially if you had a lawyer who had read or seen Perry Mason you could find a reasonable excuse to avoid sanctions. Odesnik, caught in the middle of a green zone, wasn't able to give a satysfying explanation and can now be considered a pioneer for a cleaner sport.

Until now, in fact, stricter rules about anti-doping policies seem more a declaration of intent. In 2009 there have been very few blood tests and practically no test to trace EPO, also because the Itf generally organise supplementary analysis only if it discovers traces of prohibited substance in urine or blood samples, but it doesn't directly searches for EPO.

Now it's time that the phantom menace becomes true. Or the antidoping risks to lose 6-0 6-0 against the doping.

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