Friday, October 5, 2012

More People Are Asking Questions (Update #2)

Blair Henley of Tennis Now has written an article about doping in tennis with the subheading "Rafael Nadal’s prolonged absence from the tour has raised suspicions, and the ITF's anti-doping program does little to reassure."

I was contacted by Henley and provided her with some background on provisional suspensions.

Here's a short excerpt from the article:
"Given that WADA Code allows signatories to make their own decision on whether or not to announce positive tests when they occur, it seems the ITF could halt the rumor mill for good by agreeing to make all positive tests public whether they result in a suspension or not. Miller says they have decided against taking that route “because ‘positive tests’ are subject to an initial review which may reveal reasons why it should not be taken forward, such as the existence of a valid Therapeutic Use Exemption.”
The article also gives us a new classic quote from ITF anti-doping boss Stuart Miller: "A philosophy that there is systematic doping would be more founded on a belief that the use of prohibited substances is necessary to reach the top."

The blog gets mentioned by name (with a link) in the article.

One of my goals when taking over the blog last year was to put an emphasis on factual analysis and asking questions about transparency. It seems that this approach is gaining some traction.

Let's hope the questions continue.

Update #1:

I thought I'd post another Stuart Miller quote noted by Henman Bill in the comments: "Yes, you have some long tennis matches, but if you look at how long the ball is in play in a tennis match, it’s somewhere between 7 and 11 minutes per hour...In grass court tennis, in a five hour match, the ball might be in play for 35 minutes."

Why is the ITF's anti-doping manager consistently downplaying the risk of doping?

Update #2:

In relation to Update #1, in 2010, the Wall Street Journal examined four NFL broadcasts and found that "the average amount of time the ball is in play on the field during an NFL game is about 11 minutes."

Dr. Stuart Miller, what say you?


  1. I thought Blair did a nice job of highlighting many of the flaws within the system. The excerpt that you point out is interesting. I think rational arguments can be made for not disclosing positive tests or provisional suspensions. TUEs are not a rational reason to avoid disclosure of a positive test. Obviously since WADA leaves it up to the signatories, the ITF could adopt a policy to announce positive tests only after they are certain that a valid TUE did not exist.

  2. Were you aware of this?

  3. No provisional suspension can be made on an A sample until the "initial review" or often called administrative review phase mandated under the WADA code is completed.

    That review stage examines the labs compliance with the lab standards in conducting the test, looks at chain of custody, and looks for any applicable TUE's. If a valid TUE is found then the case is closed.

    I support announcing provisional suspensions publicly. But I do not support publicly announcing lab findings that have a valid TUE associated with them. TUE's relate to personal and private medical treatments and athletes under the WADA code have a right to medical privacy. There are checks and balances in place for the approval of TUE's.

    So the ITF could announce provisional suspensions as a provisional suspension will only apply if there is no valid TUE on file to explain an analytical result for a positive A sample. But the WADA code does not make such an announcement mandatory and many sports like tennis do not announce provisional suspensions.

    1. Just out of curiosity, according to your own experience Mr. Ings how much time would it take to get a "initial review"?

    2. Good question. And of course the answer depends on a large number of factors. But from date of collection add shipping, analysis, and initial review steps, a month passing would be pretty standard. Especially if like tennis samples are shipped from far flung locations to a single lab like Montreal.

    3. To be clear, this is the same point that I was trying to make above. The positive and/or the provisional suspension could be announced after we know there's no TUE. If there is a TUE, then no announcement should be made.

      Don't you agree, that's a pretty ridiculous reason to give for not announcing positives and/or provisional suspensions?

    4. Miller saying that positives can't be brought forward due to the administrative review (including TUEs) is like saying that you can't go into the city, because you don't have enough gas in your car. There's probably a gas station somewhere nearby, and then you can make it into the city.

    5. My current idea for a disclosure regime would be:

      1. Announce all provisional suspensions/positives where the Review Board finds that there is a case to answer (i.e., no TUE, no failure to follow testing protocols).

      2. Publish statistics that state how many adverse samples cases closed due to valid TUE. No private information disclosed.

      3. Publish statistics that state how many adverse sample cases closed because protocol was not followed. For these cases, no private info released, but the protocol failure should be disclosed.

      I think such a regime would provide a much better level of transparency to ensure the public/media can hold the IF/NADO to account for its anti-doping regime.

    6. #2 and #3 could be done with basically no risk of private disclosure. Obviously, #1 would involve potentially releasing positive tests for players who are eventually exonerated. There's an argument there, which I'm not saying I agree carries the day, that players may be falsely held out as guilty by the public even after they're exonerated. There's absolutely no such risk in your points #2 and #3.

    7. This article makes me think that I would be very interested in an answer, by the ITF, to the question asked by Sen there :

      "7.Do players sometimes claim they are injured when they are, in fact, serving a provisional suspension? If so, does the ITF condone such actions?"

    8. Don't forget that TUEs can be awarded retrospectively. All you need is a disease diagnosis that matches the drug - and I'm sure that's a process that takes months - conveniently!

  4. Traction indeed. Exactly the word that occcurred to me as I read the article on tennis now. Little if anything new information, but perhaps going to a wider audience. I have noticed your website being used by other journalists who didn't quote you in previous articles, even though you looked likely to have been a source, and I wondered if that was indeed due to reluctance to admit to a seditious sounding blog title. And yet, here is an attribution, I can't remember many (any?) others before it. I wonder if others will follow.

    Interesting to see that you have 20,000 views per month. I had thought it was a lot. Had that been building over the last year or two, or stayed fairly constant.

    Having said that, I also find this comment interesting. “In grass court tennis, in a five hour match, the ball might be in play for 35 minutes.” Is that true? Where is he getting that from? Looks exaggerated, but if not for 35 minutes out of 5 hours, it probably is now more than 2 hours at most? And it is an interesting point.

    I also feel that this article is too focused on Nadal, without evidence to support such insinuation. As such, it's borderline libellous, and, in my view, unfair. I don't believe in silent suspensions which I think are conspiracy theories. I could be wrong of course.

    1. I only enabled Google Analytics late last year, so I only have visit data going back to November 2011 (previous to that the only stat I have available is page views). The monthly statistics are very volatile. For example, July through September the averaged 40,000 visits/month (that's total visits, unique plus return visitors) because of Wimbledon, Olympics, US Open. The non-Grand Slam months were around 15,000/month.

      I would say that the site traffic levels have been building steadily over the years, but that the last 2 years (and definitely since this year's Australian Open) have seen the biggest growth in readership.

    2. Miller's comment about time of play is the latest in a strange series of rationalizations:

      1. He says tennis is a game of skill, technique, etc. And so it doesn't lend itself to doping.

      2. Now he is saying that playing tennis doesn't require much fitness/athleticism because they're not playing most of the time, so it doesn't lend itself to doping.

      His job is to manage the anti-doping program and make sure the sport is clean, yet he is consistently downplaying the risk of doping in the sport.

    3. I haven't done in any research about how long the ball is in play, so I'll take Miller's statement as a given for these purposes. Even so, that's not less than other sports. Professional basketball players play a comparable amount of time during a game for the most part. Baseball games that last 3-4 hours have players sitting in the dugout for almost half the game. Even when they're on the field, they're often just standing still. American football lasts 60 minutes. If you figure half the time for offense and defense, that gives players an average of 30 minutes of game time assuming they never missed a play.

    4. If baseball players spend most of their time stationary (sitting or standing) why did they have a steroid problem? I'd like to hear Miller's explanation.

    5. Henman Bill,
      The blog has been getting progressively more hits per month over the past three years (I was the one who did it for the first 2 years). It varies, of course, depending on the height of the season. This is the slowest time generally. Anytime Nadal or Serena play in a Slam, the hits have always been off the charts (followed closely by Djoker and Stosur). It is getting more references from journalists now because it is much more professional than when I ran it. I was also quite confrontational with a lot of the journalists.
      As to your other point, I'd note that, in your average football (American style) game the players are only actually playing for less than 20 minutes total and each player only plays for half that time, so I suppose there should be no concern about doping in football...

    6. Actually, Stuart Miller is creating a "straw man". He is arguing that his accusers have no evidence other than subjective assessments of player athleticism. His is thus avoiding discussion of the anti doping program itself.

  5. Sen,
    Sorry you still have to contend with people whining about my style of blogging even after you have been doing it for a year. You are doing a good job keeping an even keel. For me, I have never had the least doubt that Serena Williams and Nadal many other players are juiced ridiculously and it is not in my blood to keep things so factual and without some sensationalization, derision, scorn and mockery, which is why I felt the need to hand it off to someone like you who could be more professional. Keep up the good work.

    1. Well, I liked your style, it was a lot of fun. Plus you came up with the idea.
      SNR's approach, building on what you've done, with obviously a lot of energy and time invested, started bringing some tangible results. Let's continue.
      Congratulations to both of you!

    2. In all honesty, there are pros to both styles. Without your blogging style, this issue might not have attracted as much attention as it has and wouldn't have brought so many commentators here. Sometimes you need a hammer (you) to draw the attention and the smooth, analytical style of Sen no Rikyu to continue it.

    3. The problem with a less factual style is that you could sometimes read between the lines the utter disgust towards the dopers, which inevitably detracts from the original issue. I really doubt you can raise suspicion among the fans of a suspect that way. I, for example, actually like Nadal's playing style, but I wholeheartedly agree that there's a high chance he's a doper.

    4. I like both styles and there is a place for both. The reality is that the dopers and the doping apologists will attack this place no matter what the style of writing and commentary.

  6. Did Mr. Miller actually rely on some actual analysis, or he pulled it out of his arse? What an insane statement!
    Did he ever actually play for five hours at a good level? Can he even play tennis?
    Hey, and Ben Johnson only had 10 seconds of strenuous effort per day (for three days in a row, though...), and somehow he still felt it was necessary. But he was probably just too stupid to understand he doesn't really need the dope.
    This Miller is a joke and he needs to be exposed for what he is, together with the ITF, obviously a corrupt, ball-scratching organization.

    1. He's the perfect frontman for an organization that doesn't want the covers lifted on the doping issue in tennis.

    2. Miller is a bit like Anne Gripper. Someone who is wheeled out from time to time to make it look like the sport involved is serious about anti-doping.

  7. Miller's role is pure tokenism; he is paid to appear to be doing something about a problem, while denying there is a problem. Since when does an official in a "gentlemen's club" expose the activities of some of its members - unless he wishes to be no longer a member?

  8. 100 m sprinters spend less than 10 seconds competing.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Top level professional tennis is one of the most physically demanding sports out there. It is a sport of constant quick sprints over an extended period with 20 secs to recover between sprint bursts. Think of doing the "beep test" ongoing for 5 hours in a 5 setter.

      It is also a sport which requires extreme physical exertion and muscular strength to pull off power shots through the arms, elbow, lower back and legs and to do it shot after shot for up to 5 hours at a stretch.

      The ATP trainers worked for me during my tenure at the ATP. One of their biggest challenges was post match treatment of players who were suffering exhaustion (especially heat exhaustion at events like the Australian Open).

      These players then need to recover enough to back up normally that afternoon for doubles and next day for singles.

      So in summary top professional tennis requires:

      Quick powers of recovery

      and an ability to do it day after day all year long while carrying injuries all the time.

      Tennis is in my view a very high risk sport for use of PED's especially when you add the millions of dollars that can be won if you make the top 25 or the many many hundreds of thousand of dollars you can win if you make the top 100. ability to spell. Hence my deletion.

    3. The one aspect that particularly baffles me is when people find it hard to believe that stamina/endurance is at a high risk for PED abuse in tennis. They try to reason that we play mostly in short bursts and have long breaks between points and on changeovers. Do they never stop to analyze their own experiences in playing? Have they never gotten tired and/or winded while playing a long game and praying for a changeover or more specifically, a 3 or 3.5 hour match on a slow hard court? The slow hard courts (like the Australian) are more taxing than clay courts if you ask me. Your legs start screaming and you're completely exhausted by the end. I'm in pretty solid shape, and I can play for over three hours while really putting out above average footwork if I have to. By the time I cross the three hour mark, I'm not in top condition anymore. I can really feel the impact of micro-tears the next day, and I have trouble pulling up for a match the next day. I'm not a professional tennis player, but I can see how I would benefit from blood transfusions and/or EPO, testosterone, and HGH (among other things).

      I remember one particular match I played that was on a really slow court. It was probably comparable to the Murray/Djokovic semi or the Nadal/Djokovic final at the AO this year for my relative skill level and fitness level. I played the match at 6pm, and we finished about 9:30pm. It was a cool night (October in the States), so heat (dehydration) was less of an issue than it could have been. I had to play the next morning at 11am. It was brutal. I rely a lot on quickness. No one body part hurt to a degree that really limited range of motion or caused acute discomfort upon movement. The main problem I had is that when I went to push off (especially to change directions) my muscles just didn't react as they normally do. The best way to explain it is like it felt like the reaction of the muscles was slower and less powerful than normal.

      The reason for the ramble is that I don't understand how tennis players can go through situations like I described above and not relate their own experiences back to what it means in terms of what PEDs could do. If I had pulled up with some testosterone would that not have benefited me in a large way? I lost 2 and 1 to a guy I would otherwise be very competitive with, simply because my ability to move was severely hampered. I don't see how using something for recovery wouldn't have been beneficial. Likewise, I don't see how taking something for stamina/endurance wouldn't have been beneficial in the previous match.

    4. Although you are not a pro, your observations about movement are very relevant. Let us say, kindly, that compared to a top player you may be a sedan rather than a sportscar, but the observations you make are generally true for both. From my years of watching the game (and, like you, I play it) the most conspicuous change in recent times has been the phenomenal movement and recovery of modern players, and how they turn up after tough matches without clear signs of fatigue. We know the sort of matches - like the AO final, or the USO final, this year. Some players are moving and hitting better in the fifth than the first or second sets. It's quite unbelievable. You have to think they are getting some help - or players in the past would have always been able to do that.

  9. Thanks to everyone for the interesting comments on this blog and replying to my comments etc. Surely am learning a lot from your all, interesting comments about 100 metre sprint and other sports.

    Wondering if possible PEDs in tennis could be as much about power as stamina? I suppose that depends on the drug, e.g. steroids for power and blood oxygen type drugs for stamina. What do we think is the bigger issue, power (of hitting, muscle etc) or stamina?

    Maybe power in the women's game, stamina in the men's as a first thought?

    1. Henman Bill,

      I would generally agree that with your assessment of power for woman. Anabolic steroids have a much bigger impact on women than men because women have much less testosterone in their system (see: I wouldn't be surprised if men are using some anabolic substances as well, but they would benefit more from other doping products.

      Doping products that would benefit both sexes are those for stamina and recovery. Out-of-competition such products would enable longer, more intense, and more frequent training sessions (both for practice and working-out), building a stronger base for competitive play.

      And, of course, recovery substances would be helpful in-competition as well for both sexes.

  10. I think Sen's style is best however if ever Nadal, Serena etc were to be found guilty then THASP would be rather vindicated.

    I am with you THASP on the women's game actually, on Nadal I can't decide.