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Tennis anti-doping programme failing

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Melbourne – Novak Djokovic's cheque for winning the Australian Open on Sunday was more than the entire annual budget for anti-doping in tennis, a programme many feel is woefully inadequate.

Djokovic and Andy Murray left Melbourne on Monday with a combined $3.8 million in their pockets for their efforts over the past fortnight.

The total funding for the 2013 anti-doping programme stands at $2 million, paid for by the four grand slams, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and ATP and WTA Tours. The cost includes $400,000 for the administration of the programme, paid for by the ITF.

Many players, including Djokovic and Murray, have called for more blood tests to ensure there is no cheating.

Of the 2,150 tests carried out by the ITF in 2011, the last set of figures available, 131 were blood tests and only 21 were out of competition.

Blood tests accounted for between three and six percent of all tests in tennis in 2011, compared to 35 percent in cycling and 17.6 percent in athletics.

“I would struggle to know if there is any other sport where their drug-testing programme has gone backwards in recent years,” said Darren Cahill, who coached Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi to the world number one spot.

Following Lance Armstrong's confession that he took drugs in all seven of his Tour de France cycling wins, tennis has come in for greater scrutiny with regards to doping.

“You get blood tested at the slams, usually after you lose, but I've never been blood tested out of competition,” said American Mike Bryan, who won a record 13th grand slam title together with twin brother Bob Bryan in the men's doubles on Saturday.

Bryan told Reuters he is probably tested around 20 times a year, but out-of-competition, through the whereabouts programme, it has only ever been urine tests.

Urine tests can detect many drugs, including EPO, one of several taken by Armstrong and other leading cyclists but only blood tests can detect HGH, human growth hormone.

John Fahey, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said tennis has an “effective anti-doping programme” but that more should be done.

“If there are insufficient blood samples being taken then athletes will become aware of that and make it the drug of their choice because they know the sport does not pay attention to blood testing,” Fahey told Reuters by telephone.

“I would like to see a compulsory percentage of all tests being blood to make sure that some of these areas are not slipping through the loop.

“There has been a propensity to draw back on blood testing across the board. I will be pushing to have that altered by way of mandatory blood testing provisions in the amended code that will be signed off in November this year at our world conference.

“Another worry is that sometimes when they take a urine sample they do not tell the laboratory to analyse it for everything.

“EPO, which was the drug of choice, was not being tested for to keep the costs down. I believe that we need to change that.”

Bryan said if players have any evidence their rivals are cheating, they have an obligation to tell the authorities.

“You'd rat them out,” he told Reuters. “It's like the honour code; you have to. You just don't want to get caught up in a whole scandal like that. You want to do the right thing, even if it's your friend. If it was my brother, I'd probably rat my brother out.”

Between the grand slams, the ATP Tour, WTA Tour and ITF circuits, tennis pays out at least $300 million in prize money, while installing and running the Hawk-Eye challenge system costs tournaments between $50,000 and $60,000 per court.

Cahill said the increasing revenue created by the sport globally means that more should be invested in the programme.

“Maybe with all the money the players are pulling out of the slams at the moment, it might even be a pro-active thing for the players to invest a little bit back into the programme,” he told Reuters.

“That would send a strong message to the community that not only do we believe in our sport but that we're also making sure we're taking measures to make sure our sport is clean.”

Fahey said the responsibility for funding was with the authorities, not the players.

“It's up to the administrators to make abundantly clear that funds will be allocated,” he said. “If that means cutting back on a small percentage of the prize money allocated at any tournament then so be it.

The ITF said last week that it is considering introducing the biological passport, which detects changes in biological markers in the blood, rather than looking for specific drugs.

Some players have said that the relatively low number of positive tests – there have been 63 “incidences of doping” since 1995 – shows that the sport is clean.

But Cahill disagreed: “I think the lessons of the last few months are that we can never be too careful with that.” – Reuters


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