Mr. Ings held the position of Executive Vice President, Rules and Competition, of the ATP Tour (2001-2005), where he was responsible for developing and implementing anti-doping and anti-corruption programs for men’s professional tennis. From 2005-2010, he also served as CEO of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA).
The views expressed by Mr. Ings through the Q&A are his views alone, based on his experience and observation accumulated over 10 years in anti-doping. They do not represent the view of any sporting federation or government agency.
Section 14.1 of the WADA Code allows organizations to publicly identify of any Athlete or other Person who is asserted by an Anti-Doping Organization to have committed an anti-doping rule violation. Further, section 14.2.3 of the Code allow organizations to publicly disclose decisions, with the consent of the subject of the decision, where it is determined, after a hearing or appeal, that the Athlete or other Person did not commit an anti-doping rule.
Other sports federations appear to provide the maximum disclosure allowed by the Code by announcing positive tests and provisional suspensions prior to an anti-doping Tribunal review. However, the ITF follows neither of these practices (and, to my knowledge, neither did the previous ATP and WTA regimes). And, in any case, because the ITF does not make use of section 14.1, it has no incentive to make use of section 14.2.3. This lack of disclosure also lessens the incentive for other organizations (e.g., WADA) to devote resources to appeal ITF Tribunal decisions, as there is no public reporting (nor publicity) of potentially controversial exonerations.
How can the ITF's approach be justified? Do you think that having positive tests kept confidential and exoneration decisions kept confidential without the ability for the public to see the evidence are acceptable practices? How can the public assess whether an "independent tribunal" is actually independent, assess the credibility of the athlete's defence, and/or assess the competence of the ITF's prosecution when they don't even know that there was a positive test, hearing, and decision?
RICHARD INGS (RI): The ITF fully complies with the WADA code. When a sample returns an adverse analytical finding, the WADA accredited lab must report the test result to a number of organisations. WADA get a copy. The international federation get a copy. And the athletes national anti-doping agency get a copy. The organisation that collected the sample has results management responsibility (for example the ITF if they collected the sample) but they must keep the other parties updated (WADA and say ASADA if an Australian athlete) on progress of the matter.
These other parties can and do attend the hearings. And these other parties have 21 days to appeal any decision made by the hearing panel. So there are always 2 separate and independent organisations following and, in my experience, critiquing the case and with appeal rights at the end.
ASADA has appealed cases run by IFs. WADA appeals cases concluded by IFs all the time as WADA has every detail of every case guilty or innocent.
Secondly the panels hearing such cases are appointed by the CAS [Court of Arbitration for Sport]. So they are completely independent of both the sport and the athlete. These are major court cases. Landis was a CAS hearing for example. All ITF matters are heard by CAS.
Finally the WADA code prohibits sports from releasing any details of matters where the athlete is found not guilty. Sports have no option here but to keep the details confidential. The only exceptions are where the athlete formally permits the sport to release details of the innocent finding by CAS.
Should CAS find an athlete guilty, the decision and opinion must be published. The CAS website has them all. As does the ITF website.
SNR: Continuing on the issue of transparency on disclosure, do you have any comments or thoughts on the revelation that Andre Agassi tested positive in 1997, but successfully lied about the nature of his positive test?
Would not the public and the integrity of tennis been better served by a more open and transparent process? Does the Agassi revelation give the public reason to believe that other players have successfully lied on other occasions, resulting in positive tests remaining confidential?
RI: Anti-doping is managed in accordance with the rules in place at the time. Back in 1997 there were hardly any rules and the ones that were there for all sports were wholly inadequate. The substance in question here was an illicit drug which carried a maximum 3 month suspension at the time.
This was before WADA was even thought of and well before strict liability was in place. Back in 1997 most sport rules had to establish intent to cheat, which is near impossible even today. So the Agassi matter is really irrelevant to today as it dates from a different era of rules. And in that case the rules, what rules there were, were followed to the letter.
SNR: A number of vague injuries/illnesses have been reported by players in recent years, preventing them from competing for several months. This seems to suggest that, at least in some cases, the player might be under a provisional suspension, but feign injury/illness to explain their absence.
Are you aware of any instances where this occurred? How often are players given provisional suspensions for doping and other violations that are never brought to the attention of the public because they are later exonerated? Do you think such a practice is justified? Would it not be more transparent and credible for the ITF to simply take full advantage of the disclosure permitted by the WADA Code?
RI: The WADA code requires athletes to be provisionally suspended when an adverse A sample is reported. There is no requirement on sports to also publicly announce a provisional suspension, just to make sure it happens. Some sports publicly announce provisional suspensions. Others including tennis do not. WADA allow sports discretion to follow either path.
Personally what is important is that the athlete is off the pitch or tennis court in fairness to others competing. I find that public comment at the A sample point simple drags out gossip and is unfair on all parties keeping in mind that the athlete is still innocent at that time. But I respect that some sports may wish to announce provisional suspensions.
And remember WADA is aware of every provisional suspension as are the NADO so cover-up is impossible.
SNR: The ITF has recently decreased the detail in its published anti-doping statistics. Section 14.4 of the WADA allows organization to publish reports showing the name of each Athlete tested and the date of each Testing. For years the ITF previously published its statistics as fully allowed by the WADA Code. Why should we not assume that the reduction in transparency is to conceal an ineffective and inefficient testing regime?
RI: WADA receive all the detailed information and will be quick to challenge sports with TDP [Test Distribution Plan] issues. The ITF publish what they are required to publish under the code and WADA are the watchdog.
I have no doubt that the ITF is committed financially, politically and morally to robustly fighting doping at any level of tennis.
SNR: The tennis media is reluctant to write about the prevalence of doping in tennis. And when they do, they downplay the possibility that top players are doping. Instead, it is argued that journeymen players are the more likely candidates for using performance enhancing drugs. While this view may accord with most of the anti-doping violations in tennis, it seems unrealistic that tennis, which rewards performance with lucrative prize money and endorsement possibilities, has a lower incidence of doping than other sports. For example, in other disciplines (e.g., athletics, baseball, and cycling), many top athletes have been found guilty of anti-doping violations (or belatedly admitted to doping) in recent years. Also, the WADA recently suggested that ten percent of athletes may be doping.
What is your opinion on the pervasiveness of doping in professional tennis?
RI: In my experience, doping is about choices made by individual athletes irrespective of what sport they play. Doping substances build strength, increase stamina, speed recovery, allow athletes to compete and train longer and harder, or enhance aggression. Doping can assist any athlete in any sport.
That being said, there are sports more at risk than others. Professional sports place great physical demands on athletes to week in and week out be fit and at the peak of their game to make make a living from that sport. So the risk versus reward from doping is greatest in professional sports. Professional sports are most at risk of rogue athletes being involved in doping.
End of Part One