News Column

Armstrong Case Re-opens Doping Debate in Tennis

Jan 18, 2013

Sebastian Fest, dpa

lance armstrong

Lance Armstrong's face was still fading out of TV sets when a tweet caused blisters in the Australian Open.

"It is time for someone in a leadership capacity in tennis to stand up for our sport and explain why it is clean. So, who leads in tennis?" Neil Harman, the veteran tennis correspondent for the British daily The Times, said in his account on the social network Twitter, @NeilHarmanTimes.

Australian former player and current coach Darren Cahill was quick to join in.

"Our testing program is inadequate. That's why no-one can stand up and speak out. It's gone backwards in recent years," Cahill said through @darren_cahill.

This way, the debate around doping in tennis returned to the spotlight: the sport has known comparatively very few positive tests, and discussion of the issue is often not welcome.

Former cycling legend Armstrong's confession, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that was broadcast late Thursday, that he had taken banned substances en route to winning the record seven Tour de France titles he has now been dispossessed of - even though he never tested positive - unleashed a wave of comment in the world of tennis.

Players, coaches, agents and reporters alike had been following the interview at midday Australian time, and many were also checking Twitter reactions on the issue.

Some were offended by the wave of suspicion that others poured on tennis, wile others focused on the latest apparent masterclass in manipulation from Armstrong.

And then world number one Novak Djokovic spoke. Djokovic is known for his habit of not shirking before topics or accepting taboo: he usually just appeals to common sense to speak his mind. On Friday, his reaction was striking.

"I wasn't tested with blood for last six, seven months," the Serb said. "It was more regularly in last two, three years ago. I don't know the reason why they stopped it."

The International Tennis Federation (IFT), in charge of the testing, does not admit they have "stopped," although it indirectly concedes that the number has been reduced.

Stuart Miller, one of the people in charge of testing at the ITF, told dpa that they have plans to do more blood tests this year, although he highlights the fact that all tests on players are unannounced.

Earlier this week, former Belgian player Christophe Rochus made controversial comments in a radio interview in his home country.

"Now, with the Armstrong issue, we have to admit that just because someone has never tested positive, it doesn't mean that person has never doped. When one can afford good doctors to do personal research, it is possible to take undetectable drugs. So in my opinion, anti-doping controls are useless and they really don't prove anything," Rochus said.

He did not hide his doubts regarding Robin Soderling's long absence from the game due to mononucleosis. The Swede has not player since mid-2011.

"He was unbeatable back then. We can't deny how dubious it sounds. He was at the peak of his career, and the day after, he suddenly says he can't play tennis anymore ... I really think it's unbelievable," Rochus said.

He also cast doubt on former world number one Rafael Nadal's ongoing injury break.

"Maybe he really is injured," Rochus said.

A former world number 38 in May 2006 and a runner-up in two ATP tournaments in his career, the Belgian accused the ATP of having attempted to silence him on the issue of doping in the past.

"When I entered the top 100, I said in the media that it was a scandal to see all these players doping, and I received a letter from the ATP threatening me, 'This is the last time you ever talk about this. You have no proof, you have nothing.' Finally, all players I mentioned tested positive. All Argentinians," Rochus said.

The precedent of tennis legend Andre Agassi, who confessed in his autobiography to having used crystal meth and said the ATP covered up a positive test, remains the basis for suspicion and conspiracy theories about doping in tennis.

Now, Lance Armstrong's case serves to highlight them.

Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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