So the verdict on the Marin Cilic doping case is in, and the broad analysis is that Cilic is somewhere between naive and negligent, rather than a person with cynical intent to give himself a boost by something illicit.
The full decision of the independent panel that assessed the evidence can be read here and it produces a somewhat unhappy narrative, that moves in the direction of a black comedy of anxiety about form spiralling into a sequence of ultimately disastrous and incoherent choices.
Cilic is already planning a trip to Lausanne to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to get his nine month ban cut down. Any success will give him a chance to play in the Australian Open, a significant motivation.
As well as that, there is also one line that has sparked off a further area of debate, Cilic’s withdrawal from Wimbledon, when he was accepting a provisional suspension and the explanation his absence was down to a knee problem.
There has been some confusion in the reporting over the case that the tribunal lays to rest. Cilic tested positive for a substance in what he believed to be glucose tablets, nikethamide, when they were in fact a pill used to deal with symptoms of altitude sickness and general fatigue.
How much research he did to discover the true nature of the tablets is at the core of the case.
There was no positive test for “high glucose levels” or something similar. Nikethamide was the active part of the tablets and the glucose content a sweetener. Cilic’s mother bought him the tablets as he was taking glucose to make the ingestion of creatine (a legal, if not uncontroversial substance) more palatable.
The tribunal is quite damning of Cilic. They say his level of fault was “quite high”. most harshly noting he could have known there was a banned substance in the tablets he took to be glucose tablets, but weren’t, by looking at a warning label in the packet (albeit in French) and that he wasn’t as conscientious as he could have been in double checking.
The case also goes on to discuss a painful chasm in case law when it comes to anti-doping issues. There appears to be disagreement on how an athlete must prove they have not ingested a substance with the intent to enhance performance. This seems a remarkably fundamental issue to have a problem over, and the case notes conclude it might take until the World Anti Doping Agency code is updated – two years from now – to resolve this.
The two sides also used previous cases to try and determine the length of his punishment. The tribunal regarded what both sides put forward as of no real value. This is another area where anti-doping case law is not being established to any effect to produce consistent responses to cases.
NICE AND KNEESY DOES IT
The other sigificant question is CIlic’s acceptance of a provisional suspension in the case. This was done, in writing, on 26th June.
On the same day he announced his withdrawal from the Wimbledon championships. There is one sentence addressing the issue in the verdict:
“He withdrew from Wimbledon, citing a knee injury to avoid adverse publicity.”
The question of deception of the media is not one that the panel on the case have to consider. Their job is to establish Cilic’s degree of negligence in ingesting a banned substance and deliver an appropriate sanction, but it is a matter that can do tennis damage.
It is not required for the International Tennis Federation to admit to the existence cases which are yet to be judged but are under way.
Details leaked out via Croatian media, journalists contacting his former coach Bob Brett and so on, to the point where there was a widespread belief he was suspended, despite no official confirmation from player, laywers, ATP, governing body or anyone in a suit. The Croatian has been given an uncomfortable ride in reports yesterday about the knee problem to the point where’s addressed it in a statement even though he has a CAS hearing due.
But before that he spoke about the knee problem on the day of his withdrawal at Wimbledon.
He pulled out of his scheduled match with Kenny De Schepper in round two, saying:
“On Sunday before my first-round match, felt it really bad in my serve when I would, you know, go down in the motion.
It was just big pain. But sort of for the match, I was also feeling a little bit, but play through it. Obviously little bit with playing the match and then three sets, and yesterday, I think I felt it much, much worse.
It was difficult for me to put weight on my left leg, which is where the pain is. So today I had basically no choice to. I can also risk something bigger to play.”
But in his statement today, matters are perhaps less clear. He talks of being “very keen” to continue playing, only to be “advised that there was a possibility that my results at Wimbledon could be wiped out depending on the result of my case.”
It goes on to say: “It no longer made any sense for me to risk causing my knee a more serious injury and to deprive someone else the opportunity of playing deeper into the tournament. I therefore took the painful decision to pull out of Wimbledon.”
From “no choice” to “painful decision” seems a significant step. A “painful decision” implies a process that requires much thought and deliberation, rather than a resignation to fate that to play on with a knee injury is not sensible and not practical.
The confidentiality process and issue leads to an ugly fight over semantics. It’s still all a significant, credibility staining mess.
The issue of anonymity in cases until an offence is found to have taken place is now becoming a significant problem.
This case makes suspicion of innocent withdrawal through injury now increase and the effectiveness, strength and desire to catch cheats within the process comes under more question at a time where it’s credibility is being attacked and funding for anti-doping and WADA is regarded as insufficient by some senior figures.
As well as giving their whereabouts, players perhaps should now face up to the fact their name will have to come out if there is a positive test to make sure innocent colleagues are not perpetually eyed up in a jaundiced way post the Cilic case.
The ITF and friends may have to be brave enough to trust us, the public, to be intelligent enough, to judge fairly when all is revealed.
Add that to the weakness of anti-doping case law and the Cilic matter is enough to further weaken something creaking.