Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Epic Fail: Out-Of-Competition Testing in Tennis

For years, anti-doping experts have said that out of competition testing is a key tool for reducing cheating. Indeed, the WADA states that "Given that out-of-competition doping controls can be conducted without notice to athletes, they are one of the most powerful means of deterrence and detection of doping and are an important step in strengthening athlete and public confidence in doping-free sport."

So, what are sports doing?

Tennis is far behind in out of competition testing.
I've compared out-of-competition (OOC) testing in tennis with that of international sports bodies that, in my view, have a history of, or reputation for, doping: Athletics (e.g., track & field), Cycling, Swimming, and Rugby. The data in the tables above go from 2008-2010 (the last year available for the sports selected).

The data show that tennis ranks dead last by a large margin in the absolute number of OOC tests conducted among the comparators. Cycling's testing volumes are of no surprise. However, in 2010, rugby conducted 3.7 times more OOC tests than tennis even though rugby carried out about 800 fewer anti-doping tests overall. Also, swimming conducted 5.4 times as many while doing 200 total few tests.

The second main finding is that not only do these other international governing bodies conduct more out of competition tests in absolute terms, but such tests account for a substantial proportion (if not outright majority) of their anti-doping testing. For 2010, they're all above 45 percent. Tennis OOC testing accounts for a paltry 11 percent of total anti-doping tests.

Clearly, tennis is not only late to the OOC game, but they're making little use of the tool. It's worth noting that out of competition testing in tennis is primarily focussed on players that must submit whereabouts info. Those players are the ATP top 50, WTA top 50, top 10 doubles players and top 5 men, women and quad wheelchair players. Therefore, given the minimal amount of OOC testing conducted, most were concentrated on about 155 players, meaning (1) the overwhelming majority of tennis players will never be face an ITF out of competition doping test in their entire career; and (2) a top player will typically face no more than a single OOC test a year. The end result: The chances of getting caught for doping out of competition are slim to none. Yet players complain about the testing on twitter...

Does the above sound like an effective out of competition program that would deter performance enhancing drug use? Why is tennis making such pathetic use "one of the most powerful means of deterrence and detection of doping"?

Makes you wonder what "modern test distribution methods" they're using.

These facts should trouble any tennis fan (and journalist) who wants the sport to be clean (rather than those who like to pretend it is).

Data Sources:

ITF (Tennis)

FINA (Swimming)

IAAF (Athletics)

UCI (Cycling)

IRB (Rugby)

7 comments:

  1. What makes the comparison even more depressing is we know from the player's Twitter accounts that many of last year's OOC test were taken after the season was already over.

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  2. Very true Shadow. They should be testing the big names NOW. Right NOW. Not in October or November. Djokovic is in hiding training somewhere round Melbourne and Nadal is probably still lingering around the middle east for no good reason. On the women's side, Serena has gotten herself another "injury" and will need to lay low and receive some treatment, no doubt. Any OOC testing for these lot now? Nah, let's do some in October instead!

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  3. It would be useful to compare stats on the number of tests conducted at nominated whereabouts (the "6am" tests) versus tests conducted outside of whereabouts ("surprise" tests).

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  4. What about comparing Tennis numbers with sports that don't have a doping history like football? Remember that as far as mainstream media is concerned, there is no cloud of doubt hanging over tennis, so these numbers don't raise a red flag.

    Of course, it can be argued that the reason why tennis is so-called clean sport is because of the poor OOC testing.

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  5. A friend told me that there were at least 30 failed dope tests at the recent Rugby World Cup in Auckland. I asked, how did he know that, since I had seen nothing reported in the media about it. He said that I wouldn't, as he obtained the information from a rugby official, and had not been made public.

    If my friend's information is reliable then there is little reason to think that tennis would be any different in its treatment of failed drug tests. The public will not be told.

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  6. To top this off (as you have also mentioned before I think), being tested OOC once a year means you can miss all your OOC tests without any penalty. You are allowed to miss 3 in 18 months and with these low numbers, they will never get to 3 before the slate is wiped clean again. Pironkova is the only player who is tested "4-6" times according to the ITF stats, so nobody is really targeted OOC.

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  7. It's even worse (as I think you pointed out before), when you only test people once a year OOC, they can simply miss the test with impunity. As long as they miss fewer than 3 tests per 18 months, there is no sanction and ITF tests so little they'll never reach 3 in 18 months.

    The individual information is interesting too. In 2011, neither of the Williams sisters was tested OOC! At all!

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