The International Tennis Federation’s anti-doping programme is under attack
Published 22 March 2013 By: Paul J. Greene
The International Tennis Federation’s Anti-Doping Programme (the “ITF Programme”) has been under fire recently by some of the sports highest profile players, who have urged it to be more aggressive in the fight against doping.
Most recently, Roger Federer commented that:
"I’m all for transparency, aggressive tests. I’ve always been like that, so for me it’s important to make sure the integrity of the game is kept where it is supposed to be and that the tour and the players have to agree to do that. I think there is a big sense of urgency to make sure the sport stays as clean as possible."1
Federer has called for the introduction of biological passport testing in tennis: “[a] blood passport will be necessary as some substances can’t be discovered right now but might in the future, and that risk of discovery can chase cheaters away.”2 The ITF has announced it will implement the biological passport program sometime in 2013 at a still to be determined date.3
The athlete biological passport “involves measuring and monitoring an athlete’s blood variables over time and establishes an individual longitudinal profile which can indicate the use of prohibited substances or prohibited methods.”4 The biological passport program was initially introduced by the International Cycling Union and more recently was implemented by the International Amateur Athletics Federation, the global body that oversees track and field.
The desire of Federer and other players on tour to show the world that tennis is clean is perhaps a reflection of the general sporting state of affairs in the wake of the doping revelations about Lance Armstrong that have tarnished cycling.
The question that must be addressed, however, is whether or not the ITF Programme is capable of delivering a high-octane drug testing program and one which would demonstrate real intent on the part of the governing body to alter the testing culture. At the Australian Open earlier this year, Novak Djokovic revealed that he had not been blood-tested for six or seven months.5 In 2011, only 21 pro tennis players were blood-tested out-of-competition by the ITF which statistically runs contrary to the desire of players to focus greater emphasis on blood testing.6 In Djokovic’s words, “[a]s much urine, as many blood sample tests they take, the better. Then you’re aware that it’s a clean sport and everybody has the same treatment.”7
The ITF began managing, enforcing and administering the anti-doping testing program for men’s and women’s pro tennis in 2007.8 The ITF adopted the World Anti-Doping Code (the “Code”) in 2004 but has only been fully complaint with the Code since 2009 when the ITF began mandatory out-of-competition testing.9 Drug testing however began in pro tennis in the late 1980s.10 The initial focus was on recreational drugs like cocaine.11 Interestingly, cocaine was the drug at issue in two of the most high profile cases to involve pro tennis players since the ITF took over. In 2008, five-time grand slam champion Martina Hingis was banned for two years after testing positive for cocaine at Wimbledon despite her claims that she never knowingly ingested the substance. It was a harsh ban that ended her career.12 More recently, in 2009, Richard Gasquet was sanctioned after testing positive for cocaine. However, unlike Hingis, Gasquet’s sanction was a two month ban. The arbitration panel that presided over Gasquet’s case found Gasquet’s claim that he inadvertently ingested the cocaine while kissing a girl in a nightclub to be credible, a decision upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (the “CAS”) based in Lausanne, Switzerland.13
In the past two years, two cases involving pro tennis players have come before the CAS. Like those of Hingis and Gasquet, the cases of Robert Kendrick and Dimitar Kutrovsky involved inadvertent ingestion of a banned substance rather than intentional use of performance enhancing drugs.14 In 2011, Kendrick, an American ranked as high as 69th in the world, tested positive for the stimulant methylhexanamine.15 Kendrick ingested the banned stimulant unknowingly after taking a dietary supplement to combat the effects of jetlag.16 Kendrick was banned initially for 12 months by the ITF’s internal arbitration panel despite the ITF’s acceptance that he did not intend to enhance his performance when he unknowingly took the methylhexanamine just prior to competing at the French Open.17 On appeal to the CAS, Kendrick’s sanction was reduced to eight months.18
In 2012, Dimitar Kutrovsky, a young Bulgarian tennis player ranked as high as 312th in the world, tested positive for the same banned stimulant, methylhexanamine, after unknowingly ingesting it through a dietary supplement.19 Kutrovsky was initially banned for two years by the ITF for his infraction.20 On appeal to the CAS, Kutrovsky’s sanction was reduced to 15 months.21
The ITF’s decision to ban Kendrick for 12 months for unintentional ingestion of a banned substance was heavily criticized by the players on tour. Much of the criticism was aimed at the perceived inconsistency of Kendrick’s sanction when compared to the 12-month ban levied against another American, Wayne Odesnik, who was caught with human growth hormone en route to the Australian Open. While Odesnik received a reduced 12 month ban for providing the ITF with “substantial assistance,” Kendrick’s comparable sanction for unintentional doping was viewed as blatantly unfair. In response to Kendrick’s sanction, Andy Murray, echoing the sentiments of many players on tour, tweeted, “Robert Kendrick should not be banned; he failed a test for taking a sleeping pill! Can’t see how that is performance enhancing! Free Kendo.”22
The outcry from the players on tour over the handling of the Robert Kendrick and Wayne Odesnik cases foreshadowed the strong players’ position, led by Federer and others, who want the ITF to use its resources to target the real cheats. The players want to show the world that the tour is clean and, in their view, diverting the ITF’s limited pool of resources towards sanctioning unintentional users of banned substances is not the means of achieving that objective. Rather, the focus in the eyes of the players should be increased blood testing to target the sophisticated drug users who are gaining an unfair advantage over their fellow players.
To accomplish this mission, the ITF will undoubtedly need monetary investment to fund a more comprehensive testing regimen. Currently, the ITF’s budget to fight doping in tennis is estimated to be just $2 million.23 When one considers that the tour hands out an estimated $300 million annually in prize money, $2 million is a paltry budget for such an important issue.24
In order for the ITF to have an effective anti-doping program, it will need to satisfy the players on two fronts: (1) an increase in the amount of meaningful testing including the implementation of the biological passport program; and (2) the issuing of sanctions that are consistent with the conduct at issue. Instead of tennis being known for cases involving cocaine and methylhexanamine, the players would prefer that the sport is heralded for its implementation of the biological passport program and its increased use of random blood testing. The integrity of the game may depend on the ITF hearing their voices and not missing the mark. In a promising development earlier this month the ITF did finally announce the introduction of a biological passport.25 So perhaps there is genuine hope to be had about the future integrity of tennis after all?
1 https://www.espn.co.uk/tennis/sport/story/194934.html (last visited 26 Feb. 2013).
2 https://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/11/us-tennis-men-rotterdam-doping-idUSBRE91A12U20130211 (last visited 26 Feb. 2013).
3 https://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2013/mar/07/tennis-anti-doping-biological-passport (last visited 18 Mar. 2013); https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/itf-to-bring-in-biological-passports-to-beat-doping-8462284.html (last visited 27 Feb. 2013).
4 https://www.iaaf.org/news/news/six-new-athletes-sanctioned-under-the-iaaf-at (last visited 27 Feb. 2013).
5 https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/tennis/itf-to-bring-in-biological-passports-to-beat-doping-8462284.html (last visited 27 Feb. 2013).
8 https://www.itftennis.com/antidoping/home.aspx (last visited on 26 Feb. 2013).
13 https://www.itftennis.com/antidoping/news/decisions/cas-decision-in-the-case-of-richard-gasquet.aspx (last visited 26 Feb. 2013).
14 The author represented both Robert Kendrick and Dimitar Kutrovsky in their anti-doping proceedings.
15 https://www.itftennis.com/antidoping/news/decisions/cas-decision-in-the-case-of-robert-kendrick.aspx. (last visited 26 Feb. 2013).
19 https://www.itftennis.com/antidoping/news/decisions/cas-decision-in-the-case-of-dimitar-kutrovsky.aspx (last visited 26 Feb. 2013).
23 https://espn.go.com/tennis/story/_/id/8910329/are-tennis-players-hiding-answers-increased-ped-questions-espn-magazine (last visited 26 Feb. 2013).
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- Tags: Anti-Corruption | Anti-Doping | Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) | Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) | International Tennis Federation (ITF) | Tennis
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Paul J. Greene, Esq. is a U.S. based sports lawyer who protects the rights of athletes in disputes, including those charged in anti-doping proceedings. Paul has been recognized by Chambers USA and Super Lawyers as one of America’s top sports lawyers.