Lax drug-testing casts undue shadow over centre court
by: Neil Harman
From: The Times
January 26, 201312:00AM
CONSIDER this hypothetical sketch. After a four-hour match at the Australian Open, in the searing heat of the day, the winner returns to his hotel room and is infused with blood, boosting his red-cell count.
He then takes human growth hormone to repair micro-tears in his muscles and returns to the court 48 hours later in a fitter state than he was at the start of the previous round, runs around and wins again. What could tennis do about it? As things stand, the answer is nothing.
At present, there is no proviso for blood-testing winners and a loser's sample will not be specifically tested for blood-doping unless the authorities request it -- which they do not. They will not say how many tests they do for HGH, which may mean none. Any doper is home and dry. The problem with tennis is not whether it has a cheating culture, but that if it does, unless there is a dramatic shift in approach, we will never know about it.
The sport has moved into realms of dynamism, physicality and athleticism that could never have been imagined 10 years ago and yet the anti-doping program, the responsibility of the ITF in the manner approved by the World Anti-Doping Agency, has not kept up with the times. When world No 1 Novak Djokovic said in Melbourne that he had had one blood test in seven months and in the next breath felt the doping regime was sound, it was a shocking mixed message.
Djokovic was quite astonishing on Thursday night, defeating David Ferrer, the world No 4, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in the first semi-final and saying that he is playing the best tennis of his career. "Tonight I just played an incredible match. I don't expect this," he said. Only four days ago, he was taken to the brink in 5hr 2min by Stanislas Wawrinka, of Switzerland, and won 12-10 in the fifth set. In the next two matches, played in the space of 48 hours, he defeated Tomas Berdych, the world No 5, for the loss of 12 games, and the No 4, dropping five.
He is playing like a super-human and knows that people are questioning how he delivers time after time. He deserves the right for the sport to declare him -- and everyone -- unequivocally clean.
Djokovic would be right to be concerned with the laxity of the anti-doping procedures -- he should have had 10 tests in the seven months in which they stuck a needle into his arm once -- and he should also be pointing to the leaders in the sport and asking why more is not done, not simply to be satisfied that they always know where he is.
The Lance Armstrong scandal has every sport rattled and none more so than this one. The new in-word is recovery. There is almost as much discussion about what a player does when no one sees them as what they are achieving when the cameras are on them.
Today, a sense that tennis players simply do not dope pervades the sport's thinking. That is entirely wrongheaded. "The implication that greatness is compromised just because it's great is the biggest disservice you can do," said Justin Gimelstob, a player representative on the ATP board. "You could not do anything more damaging than imply that someone's hard work and talent is artificially enhanced." But only if tennis can be sure that there is no reason for anyone to imply anything will the implications cease.
It is time that Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray took a decisive lead and demanded action. They need to tell the ITF it is its duty to put in place the finest system that money can buy and do the tests that will catch offenders. The anti-doping budget last year was $US1.8 million ($1.7m) and yet there was a $US300,000 underspend. How can that happen? That would pay for 500 decent blood-doping tests and then the sport would really know where it stood.
And how about freezing the blood and urine samples taken from this moment on and keeping them for a decade? If players know that the present quality of testing will not catch them because they are using something undetectable, they would be spooked by the thought of having their samples kept and retrospectively tested at any time in 10 years.
An anti-doping expert told The Times this week: "The storing of samples and publicly pronouncing that you are storing them is one of the biggest deterrents to doping in sport. The next test could be beaten, but it would be hard to beat a decade's advances in technology. It's in a laboratory somewhere -- a ticking time bomb."
Tennis has a global prize-money fund of $US500m, its popularity more profound than it has ever been. Imagine the crushing blow to the sport's prestige should one of the best in the sport be found to have been enhancing their performance.
Any increase in funding should be seen as an insurance policy to protect that astonishing level of investment. It is not about how much is spent: the UCI, cycling's governing body, spent $US5m a year and look what it got -- the Armstrong travesty. It is about how you execute the program with the money at your disposal. And the core of anti-doping is about protecting the reputation of clean athletes as much as it is catching the cheats.http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/lax-drug-testing-casts-undue-shadow-over-centre-court/story-fnb64oi6-1226562186044