Friday, October 12, 2012

Lessons for Tennis from the USADA Decision: Part 2 (Updated)

Update #1: From Courtney Walsh of The Australian, "The explosive evidence that has outed Lance Armstrong as sport's greatest cheat is certain to make uncomfortable reading for tennis officials aware that a key participant in the scandal has links to tour stars."

Original Post

The USADA's "Reasoned Decision" on the USPS doping conspiracy contains a few references to cyclings oversight body, the UCI, displaying a lack of interest in investigating potential anti-doping violations and/or ignoring whistleblowers.

Here's some excerpts:
Page 160: “In 2010 when Mr. Landis publicly raised his allegations of Mr. Armstrong’s doping, in an Associated Press article UCI President McQuaid responded before undertaking any investigation whatsoever, contending that Mr. Landis’ allegations in his April 30, 2010 email were “nothing new” and that, “he already made those accusations in the past.” Rather than investigate the allegations, instead the UCI sued Mr. Landis.”
Page 161: ‘As set forth in the affidavit of former professional cyclist Jörg Jaksche, the UCI has responded with similar disdain and disinterest towards other cyclists that have tried to bring forth evidence of the serious extent of doping within the peloton. After coming forward and admitting doping in 2007, Mr. Jaksche spoke with UCI lawyers and officials, including Mr. McQuaid, seeking to explain the level of doping that had been taking place on Team Telekom, ONCE, CSC and Liberty Seguros, however, according to Mr. Jaksche, “the UCI showed zero interest in hearing the full story about doping on these teams and did not seek to follow up with me.”’
Page 161: “Similarly, after Italian cyclist Filippo Simeoni testified regarding Dr. Ferrari’s his substantial assistance UCI appealed seeking to impose a lengthier sanction upon a rider who had provided invaluable assistance to a law enforcement investigation of doping in cycling.”
A question: Is a similar lack of action/initiative occurring in tennis (and other sports)?

All signs appear to point to a similar lack of interest in tennis (via the ITF) to investigate doping, or follow-up with potential whistleblowers.

We need look no further than the apparent total lack of action by the ITF on the "substantial assistance" provided by Wayne Odesnik, which resulted in his 2-year doping ban being cut in half. To date, there are no doping (or other) violations that have been explictly tied (or even appear to be linked in any way) to Odesnik's "assistance." And, of course, we also have the apparent lack of investigation by the ITF (beyond an empty press release) into the role of USPS doping specialist Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral with tennis players (and support personnel) at the TenisVal Academy, or elsewhere.

Further, we have no evidence that the ITF has ever followed-up on the many statements by players (and others) about doping in tennis. For example:

Nick Bolletieri (2012): "If I said tennis is totally clean, I would be kidding myself [..] I would say there are certainly some short cuts being taken. Not that many, but it would be crazy to think differently."

James Blake (2012): "In tennis, I think, I'm sure there are guys who are doing it, getting away with it and getting ahead of the testers."

Mardy Fish (2010): "This is my 11th year. I've seen a few guys come and go who have cheated..."

Daniel Nestor (2009): "We suspect that there’s always stuff going on. I mean, we watch some of these matches, the guys play five hours and come back the next day and do it again.”

Mahesh Bhupathi (2009): "The tennis players themselves have brought it (anti-doping rules) upon themselves. A lot of players have been cheating."

Christophe Rochus (2010): "There's a lot of cheating. Simply, people don't like to talk about it...I simply would like to stop the pretending. This hypocrisy is exasperating."

And, of course, there is Vania King's disappearing tweet about doping in tennis.

This is not a comforting set of circumstances. And it is all layered on top of the ITF's poorly designed doping contol regime.

Hopefully, an inquisitive journalist will ask the ITF about this situation (and other questions, too). Maybe they should ask the WADA some questions as well (e.g., What does the WADA think about the Odesnik deal?)

P.S. I believe I covered this a week ago...

27 comments:

  1. What about Fuentes famous utterance about 20% of his clients being tennis players. Did the ITF ask him exactly who those clients were?

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  2. I have a generic question related to this. Let's assume that you are in charge of a sport (any sport) where you know doping is rampant. That doesn't mean that every single athlete in your sport dopes, but it probably means that the vast majority anywhere near the top do and it's extremely difficult to compete meaningfully for big prizes without doing so. Let's also assume that you've built a brand around a top grouping of players who have won practically every meaningful title for close to a decade. Financially, you know it would be crushing to your sport (all related federations) and the athletes if a doping violation broke. You also know that with more efficient testing and investigations you will probably catch a handful of people (including maybe a couple of people close to the top of the game). However, you know you won't catch a significant number of dopers in the short-term, and to the extent that you catch people in the longer term, it will only be after they've amassed more titles and hurt the sport even more financially.

    You're tasked with operating an anti-doping system that focuses on deterrence and detection with the main objective being to eradicate doping from the sport. It doesn't matter how you eradicate the doping. It can involve trying to catch everybody or trying to do it entirely through deterrence without catching anybody, but your end objective is to completely (or as close as possible) eradicate doping from the sport.

    The question is: How would you go about it?

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    1. A potential "deterrence" solution is to, for example, announce in October 2012 that a strict regime will be implemented in 2013 and state some of the changes. For example: (1) at least 4 out of competition samples collected from each top-20 player;(2) off-day and other random testing will be used in-competition and finalists should expect to be tested at least 3 during a tournament; (3) EPO, synthetic testosterone, and HGH testing will be standard; (4) background checks will be conducted on support staff for all top-20 players.

      Basically, such an announcement says, "We're giving you 3 months to get clean. After that, we will be doing everything we can to take you down."

      However, there is a problem with this option. There will likely be a severe drop in performances in the new regime (at least in the early days until the dopers figure out something new). This could lead to "speculation" that previous performances were aided by doping.

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  3. I'd be interested in Richard Ings' views on this blog and the idea that Aussies shouldn't be so smug or complacent when it comes to Australian cycling.

    http://blog.auskadi.com/cycling/lance-no-ordinary-dope/

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    1. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/aussie-cyclist-linked-to-drugs-probe/story-e6frg7mf-1226494924985

      No country should be smug. Doping doesn't stop at any border.

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    2. and Mick Rogers... what about Porte?

      What about going back and looking at some of those track stars of the recent past?

      Or are we going for the 'limited to USP' narrative?

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    3. Oh yes. Do you think Jonker and Neil 'festina' Stephens should be allowed to have positions of power and influence within Australian cycling?

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  4. I think it's too insular just to look at the testing regime. Doping can only really be overcome when there are public attitude shifts towards sports doping backed up by far more stringent application of civil and criminal law towards both dopers and those responsible for the doping infrastructure which the players can draw on.

    What codes of conduct are there presently that the ATP and WTA insist that players' coaches, trainers and support staff follow as regards doping? There's no way a player like Murray or Nadal, whoever, could engage in a sophisticated doping programme of the kind that US Postal benefitted from without the infrastructure that goes with it. Dismantle the doping infrastructure and the problem then becomes inherently more solveable. That in turn requires new laws, codes of practice perhaps and the vigorous, proactive involvement of all competent authorities including police, customs, revenue as well as medical. Doctors who assist in doping are engaging in harmful, potentially-criminal activity and can be struck off altogether or imprisoned. Yet at the moment this hardly happens.

    Serious anti-doping cannot just be left to a sporting federation like the ITF which will always remain conflicted to a greater or lesser extent. Fundamentally, public attitudes have to be shifted too as there is a climate of tolerance towards doping that provides the comfort and culture which allows athletes to dope and get away with it.

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    1. The problem seems to be that the public has mostly accepted those explanations being handed to them by the ITF regarding "effective" & "stringent" doping programmes, the sport being clean and all that sort of nonsense we hear. A significant portion might have also simply averted their eyes from the obvious and embraced the notion that tennis is entertainment and make-believe. Maybe they have never played competetive sports themselves and simply think it's fun to watch as an entertainment.

      This affects the way the game is perceived. Meaning, that what was formerly a sport has now been turned into a veritable entertainment industry with gigantic revenues and a star system in place where anything seems to be justified as long as it serves the sole purpose of a Hollywood-like, scripted "play"with lot's of drama & excitement with 5 hour slugfests, heros that never tire, the whole of battle of the giants/GOAT's etc. storyline, that is put before us.

      Just like Hollywood "cheats" us with elaborate facades and props and make-believe, Tennis treats its audience with the illusion of a clean sport. And why bother to doubt that, it seems, is what most say.

      The "audience" is being assured via media and official announcements both by players and officials that there is no such thing as a doping problem and audiences (a significant part at least) somehow seem to be complacent enough to buy into that.

      This bubble needs to be popped - but as you nicely pointed out it needs better laws to prosecute everybody involved in the doping business. Yet, as long as doctors do get away with doping, like recently those team Telekom doctors from Freiburg. Back then, they were employed by the tax-funded university of Freibrug and conveniently ran their business from within, meaning my tax money financed their doping research!! A disgrace - but apparently not disgraceful enough so the judges could see an offense in it. Because as long as certain laws don't exists to further prosecute them, not much is going to change.

      And to wake up the public and change their complacent/ignorant attitude, it would need courageous journalists eager to look behind those elaborate façades they are being presented with. If something smells fishy, why not call it out? Those façades are not impenetrable afterall, it would only need some resistance o their behalf to get out of their comfort zones and some common sense to begin with.

      I think this blog has convenietly layed the path for them - it is hard to ignore all the facts that have been gathered here - unless maybe you are an ostrich ;)

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    2. It's regrettable that no voices from the ITF, ATP or WTA seem willing to engage. Which is rather suggestive of their own occultic approach.

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    3. Just on one point which I might have misunderstood, but just in case. You probably don't need to have a doping program so well organised in tennis, just because testing is less stringent than in cycling, both in, and out of competition.

      Also, an additional course of action might be the sponsors. I find the reaction of Nike to the Armstrong scandal to be ...well, scandalous.

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    4. JMF - The lack of reaction from Nike is scandalous, but then again not really. If we are to believe the stuff Victor Conte has mentioned, the companies are to some degree, involved with the doping. They point athletes to the "right doctors," help train athletes, etc. Nike has a big financial stake in their athletes performance, and Lance's Livestrong is a huge cash cow. Money talks.

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    5. The general public really doesn't care unless it involves an athlete that they already don't like for one reason or another (ie Barry Bonds). Even then however they are usually eager to look past it if it involves the opportunity to see that same athlete be beaten (ie Chael Sonnen).

      I don't think this will ever change.

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    6. @ Carlos & JMF

      Nike also sponsors the highly successful state-of-the-art Orgegon Project for runners, where, among others, the current Olpympic gold & silver medalists in 10,000m (Mo Farah and Galen Rupp) train with Alberto Salazar. Salazar was on Conte's client's list in 2003. He experiments, among other things, with thyroid hormones. You do the math. Fun fact, in 2006 Salazar also ran as a pacesetter for Armstrong in the NYC marathon.

      This highly scientific project has been under fire for their extensive use of altitude training and hyperbaric chambers, as we know from Armstrong now, they can be nicely tied into an elaborate doping scheme including EPO. There have been discussions about the increase of Farah's pace in runner forums also. So far, those can be only speculatons for Farah is not in the records for a positive test. But that does not mean much, as we all know.

      Knowing that Nike does not give a horse shit whether his athletes cheated or not, why would not also other NIKE-sponsored atheletes take short-cuts?

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    7. Nike accused of bribing then-UCI chief to cover up a positive drug test.
      Read all about it in the Daily News (online, of course)
      Pieces of the puzzle coming together, and it might look even more sinister than I thought. It's not the poor players who are paying federations, journalists, trolls etc, it's most likely the sponsors!

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  5. Sadly, I think that when the ITF wants to learn "lessons for tennis" from the cycling doping scandal, the "lessons" are in how to avoid having a doping scandal, rather than how to prevent doping in tennis.

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  6. Interesting Dick Pound interview to the AFP
    http://velonews.competitor.com/2012/10/news/dick-pound-says-ucis-apparent-blindness-regarding-doping-is-not-credible_261380

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    1. Pound makes a statement that has been made on this site numerous times about the ITF regime:

      Pound: "You have to say, 'I wonder if it was designed not to be successful?'"

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  7. I wish I could think of a comment that warranted the phrase, "...the eponymous Dick Pound..."

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    1. Dick, Richard, whatever, I am interested in what he has to say, and am surprised his interview was not reported by more news outlets (I did read it in a French-Swiss paper's online version.)

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    2. Mike, I think you may be describing the discomfiture that Lance is presently feeling.

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  8. Good article in "update #1" by Courtney Walsh. It could have been better though, he chooses the best quote by Stuart Miller and makes him look vaguely partly vigilant! Which is NOT the case. But it's good that someone is saying (apart from Sen here) that tennis needs to be more vigilant.

    You make a good point in the previous post too Sen under "update 1" - I'd love someone to ask the ITF, has any player been let off because of a TUE written by Del Moral? Excellent question which of course wouldn't get an answer, but excellent question nonetheless.

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  9. My concern is that the recent advances in doping, or perhaps their increased unsanctioned usage, as evidenced by the performances of some tennis players (as there is no other explanation I can find for them), are much greater than the advances in general awareness, and especially in the ITF's response.
    The Armstrong scandal is currently the lone welcome news, hopefully journalists will push asking the federations, the ICO etc to really start doing something serious.
    Of course, SNR has a role to play, through this blog and through Twitter, as do we, to some extent, so let's keep constructive:)

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  10. Worth watching:

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-10-15/the-world-according-to-lance-key-players/4313246

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