Friday, September 28, 2012

Interview with Stuart Miller (Update #1)

Simon Cambers at The Tennis Space has conducted an interview with the ITF's head of anti-doping Stuart Miller. It's a must read. Cambers deserves a lot of credit for attempting to pin down Miller on topics like top players going a year without an out-of-competition test, and what happened during Serena's panic room incident. As expected, Miller is evasive and vague in many of his answers.

It's interesting that Miller goes at great lengths to explain that other doping agencies "could" be testing tennis players out of competition as if that excuses the ITF's lack of tests. However, he presents no facts indicating that these agencies are testing players. And, in fact, there is little evidence that national anti-doping agencies (e.g., USADA) are conducting many tests on tennis players.

Miller also talks about how "no sample collected" out of competition tests are not report in the ITF's statistics. However, Miller provides no data on attempted tests, just verbiage: "...Unreported on there are two things. One is attempts to collect samples during the one-hour testing window that haven’t been successful, either due to the player’s unavailability or other administrative problems; and all of the attempts to be made to collect samples, outside of that one hour, that go unreported no matter what happens. They are not on the list."

He also comments on whether Serena's panic room incident counts as a missed test: "...All I can say is that there was an attempt to conduct an out of competition test at that time. I can’t talk about the process, the outcome, because that could compromise the confidentiality requirements or obligations that we have, I’m afraid."

An interesting exchange between Cambers and Miller relates to "no sample collected" out of competition tests attempted outside a player's selected whereabouts hour:
SC: So, these (failed) attempts, outside that hour, are not counted as missed tests? 
SM: No, they’re not. They have to fulfil certain criteria (to be missed tests).
This raises the question: How many "no sample collected" tests that don't count as "missed tests" are occurring?

The interview further confirms my view that the ITF needs new leadership if it wants to tackle doping.

Now just go read the interview.

Update #1

I wanted to make a comment on a statement by Miller: "I would say as a rule there’s not much testing that goes on between 11 at night and 6 in the morning. If you had credible information that players were using that time for doping – and it would have to be credible information – then there is nothing to stop you from going and trying to collect samples at that time. I believe that those are few and far between."

We know for a fact that is a (if not the) prime time for doping. Victor Conte has stated on numerous occasions about athletes slapping on fast acting testosterone patches on before they go bed. (see also this interview)


  1. Simon did a very nice job. I'm not sure there's much (if any) new information for followers of the blog. Miller seemed to imply that some of the OOC testing numbers may be low, because the ITF has worked in conjunction with other organizations to manage the total number of tests that athletes are subjected to. Simon, very importantly, points out at the end of that segment that USADA didn't test Venus or Serena in 2010 or 2011 (we already knew that). That analysis show that despite Miller's suggestion that those players may have been tested elsewhere, the facts don't appear to bare that out.

    One other key point was when discussing that players can be tested outside of their whereabouts hours. It's another vague statement to explain how players can go a whole year without a test, and how they can avoid a "missed test" even though testers went to collect a sample without success. I still have the same question I've posed before: What percentage of OOC attempted tests on players in the pool are attempted outside of the whereabouts hour? Quite frankly, Miller provides possibly reasonable explanation to some extent. The problem for him is that we would need a lot of hard data to be able to assess whether his assertions are accurate. That data, [in]conveniently, isn't available to the public.

    If you're testing players 6-8 times OOC, it probably makes sense to do many OOC tests outside the whereabouts hour. You're already assured that you're going to have some samples by attempting so many tests, and you get to do a fair amount of unexpected "no notice" testing at various times of day to try to dig out any cycling they may be doing.

    By contrast, when you appear to be testing most players 1-2 times, it's harder to analyze the most effective testing regime. On one hand, you still want to mix up times to keep the athletes wary at any time of day. On the other hand, "whereabouts" loses its sting if you're not testing enough inside the one hour window to force the athletes to be at home during that window. If you're testing 6-8 times in a year with some of those inside the window and some outside, you're testing enough inside the window to create missed tests if athletes are dodging you. If you're testing (successfully) 1-2 times each year and mixing up inside and outside the one hour window, you're much less likely to ever force any player to be "findable" when they may test positive.

    In that sense, the questions could be more specific to get to the heart of a few matters. It wouldn't matter, because Miller won't speak to the issues that most interest us. That's understandable in some instance, because confidentiality simply won't allow him to do so.

    1. One caveat to not having data:

      We know that Venus and Serena weren't tested in 2010 or 2011. The argument about testing outside of the one hour window raises a few questions. How many tests could they possibly have missed outside that window? Two is feasible. If you start to assume they missed four or five tests outside that window, which isn't likely, that would start to raise questions about why the ITF was undertaking a procedure that came up empty five times in a row. When you see a zero beside a player's name, who wasn't tested at all by USADA (negates the working in conjunction argument to a large degree), that mostly leaves the argument to explain how tests were missed (if you try to claim that you are testing an adequate amount). Are we supposed to entertain the possibility that they were absent for multiple tests attempted outside of their one hour window?

      Either the total testing numbers seem to be wholly inadequate for those players, or the ITF kept "attempting" to test those athletes outside of the one hour window even though the athletes could never be reached if you choose to delve into one of Miller's suggestions.

    2. The lack of hard data is the real problem here. Miller keeps suggesting alternative scenarios, but won't provide evidence to support his explanations. And if you ask for evidence, he will hide behind ITF rules (e.g., our policy is that we don't report missed tests and no sample collected events).

      They could easily report numbers without any confidentiality concerns by giving aggregate numbers (i.e., X number of OOC missions were attempted; Y resulted in no sample collected but were not counted as missed tests because of the following reasons...; Z were missed tests).

      That they steadfastly refuse to give such numbers is telling.

  2. "What percentage of OOC attempted tests on players in the pool are attempted outside of the whereabouts hour? "

    Given that he specified it was rare, I'd hazard a guess it was in the 0-1 range over a decade or so :-)

  3. The guy who carried out this interview gives every impression of being a reader of this website. In fact, it might not be much of an exaggeration to say that the material on this website prepared those questions. It is really an invaluable source this website and I suggest you backup the content and share it with a few people just in case. I think more and more people probably refer to it, because they know it has by far the best info on this topic, but perhaps don't like to reference the website by name because of the conspiratorial tone and controversial title. I wonder if the website was called something neutral like "Drugs testing in tennis" and had been more data-driven and less speculative from the start, whether it might now be widely quoted on other press and websites.

    1. Thanks, Bill.

      As for whether a different name would make a difference, it's an interesting question, but I don't know if would have made that any difference. For example, Paul Kimmage, a journalist, has been writing about doping in cycling for over 20 years, and was pretty much ignored the entire time. The fact is that this is a topic that few in tennis (or any other sport for that matter) want to address.

  4. Given the paucity of discussion generally about doping in pro tennis, I would imagine this website is pretty much regarded as an oasis within the desert.

    Why else would a WTA player like Vania King suddenly pull her Tweet on doping once it received exposure on here?

    Even if it's a flea on the ITF's back, the website's arguments will at least be heard and disseminated to a wider audience, if not acknowledged by those with influence.