Fears tennis could spike drugs as stars allowed to choose their own time for testing


The tennis governing body has been accused of being lenient on doping, after a Mail on Sunday investigation revealed that the International Tennis Federation allows the best players in the world to book their own drug tests.

Players have been told to secure time slots for blood doping tests ahead of this year’s Miami Open, a method anti-doping experts say is making a “huge difference” for cheaters looking to evade detection.

Players were also told that blood samples would be taken ahead of the 2019 French Open and last year’s US Open. The former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) compared tennis’ approach to cycling’s much-criticized failure to expose Lance Armstrong’s years of drug addiction.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has also been accused of inflating the number of drug tests it carries out, after the newspaper discovered it had published “misleading” data.

“I don’t think the ITF should announce when they are going to test the athletes,” said Luis Horta, the former head of Portugal’s anti-doping agency. “It’s the same as in the past in cycling, when they announced that they would test all the athletes on the eve of the Tour de France. It’s not good.’

Nicole Sapstead is the former chief executive of UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) who is now director of the ITF’s anti-doping programme. The Mail on Sunday obtained evidence that Sapstead wrote to players informing them that they would be tested in the days leading up to this year’s Miami Open, which started in March.

The tennis governing body has been accused of softening doping after a Mail on Sunday an investigation revealed that the International Tennis Federation allows players to book their own drug tests

Nicole Sapstead, director of the ITF's anti-doping program, wrote to players to let them know they would be tested in the days leading up to this year's Miami Open, which kicked off in March.

Nicole Sapstead, director of the ITF’s anti-doping program, wrote to players to let them know they would be tested in the days leading up to this year’s Miami Open, which kicked off in March.

The ITF has also warned players ahead of the 2019 French Open and 2021 US Open that they should submit a blood sample as part of the ITF’s Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) program.

Prior to the U.S. Open and Miami Open, players were encouraged to reserve time slots to take these tests through the online “Tennis Anti-Doping Portal”.

A message sent by Sapstead ahead of the Miami Open read: “Appointments to provide your ABP sample will take place between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. each day (between March 19 and 22, 2022) and will be assigned on a first-come basis. , first-served basis’. This gave players up to four days notice of their test.

As part of the ABP, the ITF collects blood samples from players throughout the year to monitor changes in their blood parameters over time. Blood doping can be detected by abnormalities in a player’s biomarkers.

The ITF has also been accused of inflating the number of drug tests it carries out, it is believed

The ITF has also been accused of inflating the number of drug tests it carries out, it is believed

Athletes can get high on blood by taking erythropoietin (EPO), which increases red blood cell production, or by undergoing blood transfusions. According to the WADA code, athletes should not be notified of upcoming doping tests. The code states that “except in exceptional and justifiable circumstances, all testing shall be no-notice testing.”

WADA did not specify what would constitute such circumstances at the request of Mail on Sunday.

Professor Roger Pielke is the founder of the Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and a sports ethics consultant to international sports bodies. Asked about players being told about their testing, Prof Pielke said: “This would appear to be a breach of the ‘spirit’, if not the letter, of the WADA code. It certainly gives an impression of anti-doping theatre.

The ITF anti-doping program has been managed by the independent International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) since January this year.

WADA Code Says Athletes Should Not Be Warned About Upcoming Doping Tests

WADA Code Says Athletes Should Not Be Warned About Upcoming Doping Tests

The ITIA said it warns players about ABP testing ahead of certain competitions as it allows them to perform more testing. Regularly tested players are part of the ITF Registered Testing Pool and must provide their location for one hour each day of the year when they can be tested.

“The goal is to collect data from as many actors as possible so that we have the broadest data set to work with,” the ITIA said in a statement. “From a logistical point of view, therefore, it makes sense to organize this in advance once or twice a year, so that we can test as many players as possible.”

“Because we do these ABP tests on an ongoing basis – both notice and no notice – it makes no difference if players know this in advance. Unfavorable levels will appear, either with this test or by in-competition or out-of-competition testing.

However, Rob Parisotto, an Australian stem cell scientist who pioneered the first test for EPO and was a member of cycling’s ABP expert panel, says tennis authorities are potentially allowing cheaters to escape punishment. detection by warning them that they will have to provide a sample. .

“ITIA’s statement is remarkably egregious,” Parisotto said. “It makes a huge difference if the tests are known in advance regarding blood doping. A window of three to four days before a tournament would be the ideal time to “refuel” your blood volume to maximize oxygen carrying capacity and therefore improve endurance and recovery capabilities.

During the US Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into Armstrong’s systematic doping, the US Postal cyclist’s teammates admitted that they routinely manipulated their blood parameters using saline infusions despite knowing that would be doping controlled.

The ITIA said it warns players about ABP testing ahead of certain competitions as it allows them to perform more testing, but experts fear cheaters are avoiding detection.

The ITIA said it warns players about ABP testing ahead of certain competitions as it allows them to perform more testing, but experts fear cheaters are avoiding detection.

The ITF has also been accused of inflating its testing figures after it emerged it counted each sample taken during an individual doping test as a separate test. If a player submits blood, urine and blood passport samples at the same time, this counts as three tests instead of one.

The ITF has also been accused of inflating its testing figures after it emerged it counted each sample taken during an individual doping test as a separate test. If a player submits blood, urine and blood passport samples at the same time, this counts as three tests instead of one.

The ITF’s own official documents list these figures under “tests per player” and not “samples per player”. The test data that Mail on Sunday obtained for a Russian player, for example, who was ranked in the top 20, shows that he was tested out of competition three times in 2015. Official ITF figures indicate that he suffered at least seven.

In 2021, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have been tested out of competition nine, 12 and 13 times respectively, according to ITF statistics.

Former WADA chairman Dick Pound has called the way the ITF collates its numbers “misleading”. He said: “I have always been wary of federations that rely on the number of tests administered instead of targeting the players most at risk.” They take refuge in statistics saying: ‘Oh, we tested 1,000 players’.

Random out-of-competition doping tests increase the chances of catching competitors who choose to dope. In 2021, the ITF warned players they would be tested for 16% of all ABP tests. The agency says the advance notification of ABP testing presents players with “an additional challenge regarding how they handle the prospect of a test in a few days.”

Former WADA chairman Dick Pound said the way the ITF puts together its numbers was

Former WADA chairman Dick Pound says the way the ITF puts together its numbers is ‘misleading’

The ITIA states that for all regular urine and blood tests, samples were taken without notice.

The ITF has never sanctioned a player for anomalies in their ABP or for a positive EPO result. At most two in-competition ABP tests have been conducted at Grand Slam tournaments in 2021, which effectively means that the organization has not used its ABP to assess whether players were blood doping at the most tournaments. most important in sport. He did, however, test EPO directly.

The ITF’s fight against doping has often come under scrutiny over the past 20 years. In 2016, Federer revealed he had only been tested once in 10 years during an off-season hot weather training in Dubai.

Similarly, in test data obtained by this newspaper, eight Russian players, who received special permission to compete in the 2016 Olympics despite their country’s state-run doping program, were not tested. at all during the 2014 and 2015 off-seasons.

The ITF told The Mail on Sunday that in 2021, nine percent of all doping samples – not tests – were taken during the off-season.

Sapstead took charge of the ITIA after serving as chief operating officer at UKAD when he allowed British Cycling to carry out its own ‘unofficial’ drug tests after a British Olympic cyclist tested positive for traces of steroids around the time of the 2012 London Olympics.

WADA found UKAD’s actions to be “inconsistent” with WADA rules after The Sunday Mail discovered the allegations last year.

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