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Tennis needs to wise up quickly to the threat posed by doping . . .

Athletics has, in recent years, assumed the mantle from cycling as the sport in which doping is most prevalent.

Juan Martin Del Potro was one top player who did not have to take an out-of-competition doping test. Picture: PA
Juan Martin Del Potro was one top player who did not have to take an out-of-competition doping test. Picture: PA

The recent scandals within the Jamaican team in particular, have done significant damage to the perception that athletics is a clean sport. Few outstanding performances are now treated without suspicion and guilt-by-performance is often the public's default opinion.

The doping violations which are being uncovered continually within athletics are reflecting negatively on the sport at the moment but the flip-side of the situation is that the cheats, or some of them at least, are being caught.

Athletics as a sport recognises that doping is an issue and that it must be dealt with. Similarly, cycling has been scarred so badly by its doping past that its anti-doping programme is now, inarguably, one of the most vigilant.

By contrast, in tennis there have been relatively few doping violations uncovered but only the most naive observer would insist that this means the sport is clean. Tennis seems to have an air of "it doesn't affect us" when it comes to doping. Certainly, there would be less of a direct correlation between taking performance-enhancing drugs and improving results in comparison with less skill-based sports, such as road cycling or sprinting. Yet when you consider the physical demands of modern-day tennis, it would be remiss to disregard the possibility that doping could improve performance.

In grand slam tournaments, it is now not unusual for the top players to play back-to-back five-hour matches with just one day recovery in between. There can be little doubt that performance-enhancing drugs could help this recovery process, yet the sport continues to appear reluctant to accept the very real threat of doping within its ranks.

Admittedly, there has been something of an improvement in recent years. Eighteen months ago, both Andy Murray and Roger Federer called for more drug-testing throughout the sport. Federer felt that he was being tested on fewer occasions than in the previous six or seven years of his career, while Murray called for more blood testing and out-of-competition testing to be conducted.

Earlier this month, the International Tennis Federation released its player-by-player anti-doping figures for 2013 and they are intriguing, to say the least. As one would expect, the top players were those who were tested most frequently in-competition as they play the most competitive matches. However, it is the out-of-competition tests statistics which are the most concerning. There seems to be something of an arbitrary nature to the out-of-competition testing, with several lower-ranked players being tested seven or more times while neither Jelena Jankovic, who regained a spot in the world's top 10 in 2013, nor Juan Martin Del Potro, a top-five player, were not tested at all out-of-competition. There were numerous other top players who did not have to take a single out-of-competition doping test.

Every one of the world's top players should be tested out of competition multiple times throughout the year as it is this perseverance which is by far the most effective method of catching dopers.

It is widely accepted now that few athletes are stupid enough to dope during competition. When EPO was so prevalent in the cycling peloton, riders would take the blood-boosting substance during races knowing that there was no test for it but this is no longer the case. Indeed, there are few drugs which are particularly beneficial to take during competition.

I interviewed Sir Craig Reedie last year, just before he was formally elected as President of WADA. He emphasised the importance of out-of-competition testing, placing far more value on this than in-competition testing. "The best way to catch dopers is to do random out-of-competition testing," he said. "The testers have to be able to turn up to test an athlete at any time."

Reedie implied that the expectation of WADA was that few medallists at major events would test positive. Rather, if athletes were going to dope, it was likely to be during their training phases rather than in-competition.

Cycling now conducts thousands of dope tests each year. The sport was badly damaged by the decades of endemic doping which prevailed in the peloton but cycling has, belatedly, learned its lesson and is now attempting to rectify the issue. Tennis, however, appears to remain either naive or oblivious to the fact doping may be a cause for concern.

The sport is improving its testing programme, but far too slowly. In a sport in which vast sums of money are at stake, some players may cross the line in pursuit of success. Tennis needs to wake up and it needs to do it sooner rather than later.

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