Monday, March 5, 2012

Take Shelter (Update)

When it was discovered that cyclist Mark Cavendish missed an April 2011 out-of-competition test, the story became major mainstream news. In the ensuing media storm, Cavendish quickly confirmed the story and explained why he missed the test. What happens when similar incidents emerge in tennis? Do the tennis media and players set the record straight? Or do they hide until the clouds move on?

Serena Williams

May 16, 2009 is a significant date. Why? It's the last recorded time that the ITF collected an out-of-competition sample from Serena Williams.

The next significant date is June 16, 2009. On that date, the ITF attempted an out-of-competition mission, but no sample was collected. This occurred with many top players in 2009, including Federer, Nadal, Roddick, and Serena's sister Venus. Unlike the case of Cavendish, the out-of-competition testing results for 2009 received minimal coverage from the tennis media and none of the players involved commented on the "no sample collected" tests.

For 2010, all we know is that the ITF did not collect an out-of-competition sample from Serena Williams. Were any attempts made?

For 2011, the ITF again did not collect an out-of-competition sample from Serena Williams. But we do know that on October 26, 2011 the ITF attempted to collect an out-of-competition sample from her. At the time, I asked the ITF about the attempted test. They gave an evasive response that indicated that no sample was collected and that they were investigating the incident. They wouldn't comment further on the case. However, the 2011 testing statistics confirm that, in fact, no sample was collected. Once again, unlike Cavendish, this story got minimal coverage (almost nothing from the tennis press) and Serena Williams never commented publicly about the incident. (If the 2010 and 2011 ITF test document links don't work try here)

Also, it should be recognized that from 2009 through the end of 3rd Quarter 2011 (latest data available) Serena Williams did not have an out-of-competition sample collected by the USADA.

This chain of events (and non-events) are important for two reasons:

1. According to the ITF's anti-doping code (Section 2.3): "Refusing or failing without compelling justification to submit to Sample collection after notification of Testing as authorised in applicable anti-doping rules, or otherwise evading Sample collection."

2. According to the ITF's anti-doping code regarding Out-of-Competition testing (Section 2.4): "...any combination of three Filing Failures and/or Missed Tests committed within an eighteen-month period, whether declared by the ITF or any other Anti-Doping Organisation with jurisdiction over the Player, shall constitute an Anti-Doping Rule Violation."

These rules and the facts raise some hard questions:

(1) Given that no sample was collected from Serena Williams on October 26, 2011, what happened? Did she refuse to provide a sample? If so, why was she not found to have committed an anti-doping violation as per section 2.3 of the ITF anti-doping rules?

(2) How is it possible that Serena Williams has gone almost three full years without an out-of-competition test from either the ITF and USADA? We know that there are at least two occasions in the past 36 months where out-of-competition testers did not collect a sample. Were any other attempts to test made (e.g., 3 or more within an 18 month period)? What about other players like Venus Williams and Na Li?

(3) What kind of credible anti-doping programme allows top athletes to go so long without collecting an out-of-competition sample?

(4) What does the WADA think about all of this?

(5) Where's the tennis media? As noted above, if this was cycling, it would be big news. I've yet to see any coverage of the latest ITF anti-doping statistical release.

Better check the storm shelters. They must be waiting for the skies to clear.

Update: Venus Williams and Na Li

Initially (see below), we looked at Serena Williams's recent out of competition (OOC) testing history. There are a couple of others with similar gaps: Venus Williams and Na Li.

The last recorded OOC ITF sample I could find for Venus Williams was September 28, 2008. Her last recorded OOC USADA sample was 4th Quarter 2008. She had no OOC sample collected by the ITF in 2009, 2010, or 2011. However, there was a "no sample collected" attempt on June 16, 2009 (the same day as Serena's "no sample"). Further, like Serena, there were no OOC samples collected from Venus by the USADA from 2009 through 3rd Quarter 2011 (latest data available).

Na Li had no OOC sample collected by the ITF in 2010 or 2011. Her last recorded OOC ITF sample: May 2, 2009.


  1. Interesting post, Sen, and it sheds lights on something I have suspected for a while; that perhaps the ITF, at least in some high profile cases, simple do not test 3 times OOC within 18 months, removing the possibility of whereabouts related suspension should a player wish to exploit it.

  2. I'd suspect they tried to test here, she just simply "wasn't available". Or called the police on the tester :-)

    Let's face it, if top players average 1ish per year, most simply won't ever reach the 3 in 18. The only real danger for them is the testers will start to get suspicious, maybe target a bit, but she's getting near the end of her career and perhaps doesn't care.

  3. We also know that she missed at least two OOC tests since that time. One just before Wimbledon in 2009 (along with her sister who also missed one on the same day) and one last year when she hid from the testers. Perhaps she was really serving a silent suspension during her "stepping on glass in a German restaurant" facade.

    1. I really think the silent suspension theory is correct and if it is I'd say it succeeded: Serena's tennis career is as good as over. The suspension (if indeed it was one) was a career-ending one. If this is true then it can also be said that the anti-doping brigade must be doing something right.


    UEFA official congratulates Spain on it's fight against doping.

    He he he !

    1. Spain has an antidoping policy? The story doesn't go into much detail at all regarding the doping. But Spain has next to NO doping policy in football and indeed tennis. They have a big cover-up policy though.

      And within this article, what on earth does "and those who have children" mean? I think it's a bad cut and paste job, or a seriously English-learner writer.

    2. That is funny because last weekend, I watched a match of the Spanish Premiere League. I think it featured Sevilla FC and Athletico Madrid. Anyways, the English commentator talked to Sevilla player Piotr Trochowski before the game and I thought he had some very interesting things to say about the antidoping policy in Spain. Trochowski has been playing football in Spain since last summer and he hasn't been tested once by the Spanish antidoping authorities ever since. Not after a match and no doping officials have shown up at the Sevilla training ground either. That's in stark contrast to Germany where several players would get randomly tested after every match and the players have to give their whereabouts for every single day of the year. And he still has to give his whereabouts to the German Antidoping Agency just in case that German antidoping officials show up for a surprise test. So much for Spain's hard fight against doping. They really do deserve a medal for it.

    3. Platini has received bribes from Barcelona FC. This is a well known fact, and only recently we saw complaints from other owners, which has led to the "decline" of Barcelona... What a shame. In any case, let us not forget Zidane was doping crazy in his time in Italy , and misteriously everyone got quiet on his time in Spain. Doping is a way of life for most players apparently. Regarding Germany, we can clearly see german players run out of gas in every match... Perhaps they should adopt Spain's "extraordinary" doping policy.

  5. The story with the cut foot is unique in a way that it leaves more questions than answers.
    I do understand she might not want to reveal the real reason of the injury. But why not just shut the fuck up then?
    Just say something like "I hurt myself at home, and I don't want to talk about it."

  6. Excellent post SNR. Further proof that the tennis dope testing is nearly useless. And to think idiots like Brad Gilbert and The Times writer (Harman I think?) have the nerve to say things like "they get tested all the time".

  7. Pat McQuaid says he doesn't think Spain has a doping problem.

  8. And no one with half a brain takes anything that McQuaid says seriously.

    Everyone in cycling knows that he is trying to reset testing back to 1999 where the UCI pretends to test and the riders pretend to ride clean. Catch a few small fry and claim the testing program is working.

    They would have covered up Dertie Contador's positive but for it being leaked.

    Frodo Cavendish is a bad example because he is the Nadal of cycling. Pretty much everyone he has ever been associated with has a doping conviction, plus the roid rage episodes and the HGH side-effects. But he speaks english so he can get away with it. Much like Murray, Roddick, the Williams etc.