Feb 09

Tennis, Drug Testing and Talk

Who are the dopes?

Who are the dopes out there?

“Test me more – no test ME more!”

As things stand, it’s almost possible to imagine Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal engaged in some kind of stand off more intense than the one they might have at Monte Carlo, or Roland Garros over the amount of drugs test, and blood tests in particular, they receive.

The intelligent, or those at a very minimum with good searching skills on Google, can point to times in the past when they have been much less effusive about having interlopers from the ITF with sample jars arriving at unsociable hours.

It is easy to be cynical and dismiss these views as PR changes, or we can be much more open minded and say the players have seen how important it is to be proven clean in what general fans perceive as a much muddier era than a year ago.

However, we should also not perhaps take quite so much interest in every utterance of sports people – I’ve spent more of my life than I could care to remember chopping out the dull and banal (and often PR safe) from interviews and press conference to find the interesting bits – and we should remember they are much better at delivering the message they want to get across in an era of carefully controlled and monitored access.

There’s no doubt the International Tennis Federation’s testing programme – and especially the number of blood tests – is widely seen as inadequate. My understanding is the ITF itself does actually now realise that this is a problem. We have seen pledges to bring in the biological passport system that will help identify changes in blood composition that could hint at EPO use.This is progress and if the ITF does beef up its testing programme then well and good – and not before time obviously.

“Now according to media almost every elite athlete does/did take PED. Thanks Lance and (a) few others.” Anastasia Rodionova


Dimitar Kutrovsky, a man caught by the ITF's anti-doping programme

Dimitar Kutrovsky, a man caught by the ITF’s anti-doping programme. (photo: Nadina)

The rest of sport, is doing its best to make sure it is seen as clean and has integrity in the made scramble to avoid losing sponsors (and those useful things called fans). England cricketer Stuart Broad was one of many to say “We’re tested regularly” as he was stuck before a microphone. This seems to be the favoured mantra as the immediate fall-back to probing questions.

But now to words from those who know the testing game and recent realities.

Former Australian Anti Doping Head Richard Ings has been high profile given the sporting implosion there. In his analysis, testing will only catch a “small proportion” of those using performance enhancing substances.

The common theme in both the Lance Armstrong and Australian scandal is intelligence, not testing, has been decisive. Armstrong boasted of passing hundreds of tests.

Australia took pride in its testing system, but it took a year long investigation with criminal powers to indicate what’s been going on.┬áRemember, Wayne Odesnik was found by customs with his human growth hormone.

So Anastasia Rodionova is partly right. We may not think everyone’s pumped up on pep pills, but when they sit in front of us and say they have passed though drug testing, it’s much less satisfactory as some proof of cleanliness.

Testing now looks more and more like something that a sport can use to proclaim it’s fairness and integrity to the casual eye taking it in on the sofa. Something to keep the cash from the bleachers rolling in. This is not to say it shouldn’t be done – and in tennis case done a lot, lot better. But to regard comprehensive testing now as a gold standard, rather than a minimum requirement looks more and more like folly and fobbing off.

The challenge is for sport to be bold enough to co-operate fully with police and government enforcement agencies, even if it knows it’s going to hurt short term, and to create an environment where those who know of use of performance enhancing drugs by colleagues are no longer snitches or grasses if they report their concerns.

And those cultural changes are very hard to fashion in the land of locker room codes where lots of money is at stake.





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