Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Biological Passports and TenisVal (Update #3)

Potentially very big news for tennis anti-doping efforts (We'll have to wait and see.). John Leicester of the Associated Press conducted an interview with the ITF's anti-doping manager Stuart Miller:
''We're working hard to try to increase the proportion of out-of-competition testing, and particularly blood testing, and we've been working on that for a while.''

''I'm hopeful that by the end of the year we'll have made some inroads into improving that. Like any anti-doping program, we're subject to resource constraints,''

''We are looking very, very carefully at an athlete biological passport program in tennis...I don't want to say it's definitely happening until we actually say, 'Here's a program. It's up and running.' We're looking at it to ensure that if we do run it, we can run it properly.'' 
Update #1

Nick Sywak at Salon writes: "...in the wake of the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, no sport that requires as much training, endurance and sheer athletic grit as does 21st-century professional tennis can insulate itself from the chill winds of suspicion and skepticism."

Update #2: TenisVal and Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral

More from John Leicester of AP, this time it's about TenisVal and Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral. Interesting revelations. Here are a few excerpts:
[TenisVal owner] Pancho Alvarino told The Associated Press the relationship between his TenisVal academy and doctor Luis Garcia del Moral "started approximately 14-15 years ago."

That overlaps with del Moral's work for the U.S. Postal Service cycling team. The USADA says del Moral helped to implement a "team-wide doping program" as a doctor for USPS from 1999-2003...
Alvarino said "many of our players" consulted del Moral for preseason blood tests, strength tests and for injuries. He said TenisVal used the information to tailor specific training programs for each player...

Players paid the doctor's clinic directly, Alvarino said, adding that TenisVal coaches always accompanied players on visits to del Moral...

The manager of the International Tennis Federation's anti-doping program, Stuart Miller, said he investigated del Moral's work in tennis in the wake of the USADA's ban.

The ITF "interviewed Sara Errani, among others," Miller told the AP. Citing confidentiality requirements, he wouldn't reveal details of the investigation or say if the ITF determined whether del Moral helped players to dope.

"If there's a case where somebody has breached the rules, it will be publicly reported," Miller said. "So you can draw what conclusions you like from that."
It would be interesting to know how much these many players were paying the clinic for the services provided. And what kinds of "training programs" were designed based on the information from the clinic?

Update #3: Jim Courier, 1999

The new timeline means Dr. del Moral was working in tennis back in 1999. That was the same year Jim Courier stated that "EPO is the problem.'' (also see here) At the time, then ATP chief executive officer Mark Miles stated that Courier's remarks were "unsubstantiated" and "unfortunate." How about now?


  1. Translation:

    "We need to make sure that if we run it that we don't unintentionally catch any big fish and that if we do, that we can keep it quiet.."

  2. Oh, why so sudden, Mr. Miller?

    I particularly like the phrasing: they are "working hard to try to increase the proportion of OOC testing" - compared to what? To the little they did so far, of course. Hahaha! This surely must seem like hard work to them.

    But on a more serious note, if they are in fact thinking about bio passports, I would suggest to have an independent body doing the testing and setting up of those blood-profiles. The ITF in its current state is not credible. They managed the most generous, predictable programm for ages presenting little to none results. More so, added rather dubious episodes to the fight against doping, locker room, nandrolone-gate, Odesnik, Rusedski, del Moral-links-into-tennis, you name it.

    They ought to get fired imo for not doing their job properly. They were running a mere false front operation.

    And while they are looking into that, they might as well get more transparent when it comes to TUE's from players. Those should be disclosed as well, so the public knows on what terms players compete - are they walking medical cabinets or not?

    Obviously, it would need more money, likely a trippling of the current funds to test players on a higher average (3.4 p. A.) to increase the pressure of prosecution.

    Are we okay with giving the likes of Miller more money to run a programm?

    I doubt it.

    1. The only way we would be contributing to the ITF's budget would be through the fancy prices paid for tickets to watch the grand slams. It is pretty outrageous that tournaments like Wimbledon have such short arms and deep pockets when it comes to anti-doping. This whole saga merely reflects just how powerless the average Joe is in debating and influencing the matters that most affect his sport. Why is the Wimbledon tournament in entirely private hands anyway? Surely it is a public asset?

    2. I read somewhere that most tournaments actually don't need audience money to break even - the big sponsors and TV rights cover the tab pretty much. Ticket sales are just a nice asset, but at the end of the day not really needed to break even. I mean, we all have seen those tournies with low audience numbers and empty seats galore...

      This shows what kind of short circuit/closed system tennis has become: money is circulating between sponsor money, big-shot tournament "investors" and player's and tennis executives purses.

      In addition, it shows us how far tennis has removed itself from being a mere competion involving fuzzy balls, racquets and an audience to applaud and marvel at the skills put on display by players.

      Personally, the fact that tennis is a gigantic money-generating bubble that does not give a rat's ass about fairness and sportsmanship, clean players, traditions or the actual sport as such is at the core of what is wrong in tennis.

      I mean look at how IMG treats its players - mere inverstements! And I am sure certain medical advise is part of their holistic approach.

      I mean, just looking at who invests/ buys up traditional tournaments to turn them into another slow-hardcourt...

      To be quite frank, all this makes me rather angry. All the Tiriacs and IMG's, sheiks or Columbian investors (Bogota! money-laundering, anyone?) as in the case of LA's Farmers Classic tournament, or opaque groups from Brazil buying up Memphis...

      They are soulless investors mostly and only little interested in the sport as such. They push so much money into tennis whilst at the same time deflating the idea of what this sport is all about.

      I mean, look at what Tiriac, tax-cheat extraordinaire, is doing to Madrid, smurfblue courts first and now round-robin format all of a sudden? What's next?

      It's a circulus vitiosus. And the ITF's anti-doping programm is on the receiving end, created for façade-sake, for the pretense of doing tough testing.

    3. The events with lots of empty seats look pretty shocking, but they use those large+expensive venues for a reason: when it comes to the night sessions and the weekend matches, they can fill them and make a bundle.

      Always a tradeoff of course, but that's why atp250 events are paying top 10 guys 100k+ just to turn up.

      Certainly the sport has some pretty strange economics :-)

  3. Take a look at this for a laugh, Agassi was once on the ATP drug task force!


    Rather like Verbruggen and his membership of the International Olympic Committee.

    1. There was no "ATP Drug Taskforce" in 2004 nor was there one at any stage between 2001 and 2005 when I headed the ATP anti-doping program.

    2. Maybe they are referring to the player supplement task force. This was composed to solve the issue of how player could take vitamins and other nutritional supplements with no risk of contamination from banned substances.


      Nothing to do with anti-doping policy but nutritional supplement policy.

    3. From that 2004 bbc article, Agassi said:

      "I got tested 20 times last year, Federer 23 times and Andy 20."

      Quite a lot more than they're doing now.

      Agassi on a drugs taskforce would have been amusing - the tour would have exploded (given that 4 or 5 of the top guys publically accused him of using PEDs).

    4. On the subject of Verdruggen. No one should believe that the supposed commission to investigate the UCI is going to be transparent.

      Essentially, Verdruggen has appointed his corrupt Aussie IOC buddy John Coates to make sure that those appointed to it aren't going to also uncover anything nasty. More to the point we've seen how its remit has been narrowed down and narrowed down.

      Discussion of how the UCI have got the whitewash out here.


    5. Here's a change of pace:


      Go to 1' 40''.

      (Warning: Completely off-topic).

    6. Hahahaha. Great find!

      "Ings did not let him (McEnroe) get away with much."

    7. Off topic but a stand up moment in my umpiring career.

      At the 1987 US Open I umpired a 3rd round match between McEnroe and Slobodan Zijovinovic live on CBS and in front of 20,000 spectators.

      I was 22 years old at the time.

      Due to violations of the on court Code of Conduct I was required to penalise McEnroe with first a warning, then a point penalty, then a game penalty on set point down to penalise McEnroe a set.

      That made it 1 set all.

      We played 3 more sets over nearly 3 hours without further incident as one further conduct matter would have resulted in Mac's disqualification.

      And I wouldn't have hesitated to do that if required.

      Key moments are 1:50 to 4:00

    8. Good to see that someone enforces the rules. Now, I would like to see a chair umpire do this with the time violations of Nadal.

    9. Richard,

      I've seen the video on youtube of the Mac/Becker match where you gave Mac a warning and then a point penalty. He refused to change sides, and one could easily see that Becker was reluctant to force him to do so. The whole episode was priceless.

    10. ^Link

    11. Richard, i didn't realize until now that you used to be umpire as well. I'm glad that we have internet: now i can thank you for standing your ground in front of players like McEnroe.It must have been excruciating to go through this. Thanks again for taking time to write on this forum: i think that it's very important.
      We all share the same love for Tennis and what happenned to it is sickening. I hope that our guerilla against the lack of transparency will prevail.

    12. @ Richard

      I just realized you have been umpiring many matches I watched when I was growing up, how could I have forgot that!

      Priceless episode indeed but also priceless hedgehog-y hair back then ;)

      Btw, it looked to me as if that unruly McEnroe casually flipped you off there...

      And again I would like to stress how much your presence here is welcome - thanks for all yor input here.

      Finally I can put a face to your posts!

    13. A much younger looking face in those old YouTube videos.

  4. Sen - someone with good Spanish might be interested in this blog about the proposed new Spanish anti-doping law.


    About the biopassport - the smart athletes know how to fool it. The people it will catch will be the guys at the bottom. However, it is a very good and expensive fig leaf. It makes for good PR which is what Millar is all about.

  5. Wow, finally someone found a little time to make a bloody phone call and write an email to Spain!

    From the little more we know now,the only possible conclusion to draw is this needs further investigating.

    However, after reading the above link by Moonax on Spanish anti-doping laws and their slack enforcement in that country and from what we know about Spanish anti-doping authorities in general, I think it's safe to say that we should have very little faith in any further inquiries on their behalf. All their combined efforts will go in sweeping it under the carpet, as ususal. Maybe that dirt pile becomes so larger, it cannot be ignored anymore?

    It will be hard to come up with real evidence though, unless someone speaks up or unless the USADA will lift more covers on related incriminating evidence that was found at del Moral's place while investigating his ties into pro-cycling. It would be nice to take a closer look at del Moral's bookkeeping...

    And considering that statement of the TenisVal owner trying to give de Moral the benefit of the doubt..."If there had been any indication that del Moral was doping academy players, "I would have denounced the doctor, as well as the player," Alvarino said." Yeah, right.

    As for Miller's statement - I am sure nothing gets revealed publicly. If Murray calls the events surrounding Armstrong "shocking", and he was clearly referring to the public effects of a revealed doping scandal rather than to the fact of manipulating results by cheating, tennis will do anything to NOT have a scandal.

    1. Funny that when you stick your head in the sand, you don't see much doping.

      In terms of "If there had been any indication that del Moral was doping player..." There were indications. Various cyclist have said that doping was the only thing del Moral did. They worked with del Moral, saw his "medical" practice, and saw the facilities that he used. They stated that doping was the only thing done by del Moral. While that is not definitive proof beyond all doubt, it is some indication. If I go see an oncologist, it is not proof that I think I might have cancer, but it is certainly an indication that I might -- maybe I just wanted to read the magazines in the oncologist's office or ask a specialist in cancer to perform a "routine cardiogram."

    2. One good way of properly investigating del Moral and player doping is by tracking the money flows and analysing how much del Moral was receiving from players, coaches or anyone with a connection to him who could have acted as a conduit. This was done to great effect in Italy by the PM (investigating magistrate) who was examining Michele Ferrari's (overseer of U.S. Postal's doping programme) finances. For more circumstantial evidence, one could also look to draw a correlation between potentially connected events such as the period of player association with the magic doctor with movement in their ATP/WTA rankings. I think it would be particularly interesting to see whether Sara Errani's ranking rise coincided with the period when del Moral 'worked' with her. That would be almost a dead giveaway for reasonable suspicion of doping.

      Is the ITF capable of mounting this kind of investigatory effort or does another ADO take on the responsibility for this kind of non-testing assignment?

      What I thought particularly hilarious about Agassi's remarks reported by the BBC were his comments about tennis being drug free because the testing programme was so good.

    3. Peter. What you outline is the path to take in investigating such matters. But accessing such financial transactions requires a search warrant and can only be applied by a government agency with probably cause that a criminal act has taken place. That is how it works in Italy where doping and supplying doping agents is a criminal offence.

      In regard to Del Moral, only a Spanish government agency would have jurisdiction to apply such an investigative approach and only then if there was probable cause of a Spanish law being broken.

      No sporting organisation at any level is any any position to investigate financial transactions such as these unless the good doctor and his clients volunteered the information.

      Which is why again I say that the future of the fight against doping in sport is via governments enacting laws and empowering government agencies with investigative capability.

      Testing has a role but throwing all the money into testing is just a giant money pit that doesn't catch the serious dopers and certainly doesn't catch the suppliers and doctors.

    4. And there's the nub of the debate to be had, I feel, over how the problem is tackled. On the one hand we can readily see the possibilities opened up by criminalising doping but on the other hand you read of a seasoned observer like Hoberman, and presumably others too, who argues that testing and criminalisation is just a diversion from addressing the underlying causes which drive athletes to dope in the first place. His belief is based in part on his canny observation of a growing acceptance, as he terms it, of 'performance enhancement and medical redemption' in society at large in which professional athletes and fans alike can all participate, thus 'weaving the ethos of performance enhancement into the fabric of everyday life'. Accept his thesis and the outlook for anti-doping becomes pretty gloomy indeed.

  6. Nice work Mr Ings.

    As for a biological passport, it's certainly necessary in tennis. It's not perfect but it means that plays are likely to dope less. Not to stop doping altogether, but to dope less, which is better than nothing. Look at cyclists - they still dope, but they are much slower than they were ten years ago. I'd love to see say Djokovic's profile next year, should this come in next year. I bet he will not be as dominant as he has been. And let's not get me started on Serena! Her recent comments about being tested so often are turned into a joke by articles pointing out the facts about how utterly infrequently she is actually tested.

  7. For example, recent winners Bradly Wiggins and Cadel Evans are noteworthy for their deafening silence of any *real* comments re Armstrong, since the USASA report.

    A passport is not perfect by any means, but it means those players currently gaining a big advantage by use of PEDs will lose a bit of that advantage. If it is brought in, it will be interesting to see who keeps their level, and who drops down remarkably.

    But I must say I am really not holding my breath for it to be brought in....

    1. I find it amusing the British assumption that cycling is suddenly clean, after at least 20 years (and probably much longer) where everyone on the tdf podium was a doper. Exactly the same was said about Armstrong after Festina, new clean age etc etc.

      Cadel Evans of course had the links with Michele Ferrari, and Wiggins had Geert Leinders on board.

    2. Evans did a test (only one!) with Ferrari.
      It was 2001: if there is a guy "hated" by Lance and his stuff is Cadel, believe me.
      Passport is the key for a cleaner sport.
      That's why football,american leagues,rugby and tennis won't make it happen.
      They can't show how miserable is their situation...


  8. http://espn.go.com/tennis/story/_/id/8630475/tennis-players-cut-ties-spanish-doctor-banned-usada

  9. This is off-topic of this post, but does anyone else find Victor Conte's behavior on twitter obnoxious and self-defeating? I think that perhaps he simply doesn't understand the way twitter works, but it's hard to keep following him when he is constantly tweeting replies to those who he has blocked or who he is telling to unfollow him in such a way that all his followers see them. Beyond that he is always pimping his nutritional supplements as if they are actually effective for performance or strength when they are simply a mix of zinc, magnesium, and B6 ... give me a break. It's hard to take him seriously and I find it unfortunate because he has so much potential insight to offer.

  10. Don't know if you're aware of this itw of John Fahey (WADA President) : http://www.rmcsport.fr/editorial/318874/dopage-fahey-armstrong-n-a-pas-d-honneur/


    Extracts :
    "Q : L’AMA aimerait-elle avoir plus de pouvoir pour, par exemple, mener elle-même ses propres investigations ?
    JF :Oui, on doit avoir cette possibilité. Chaque année, nous sommes informés de situations suspectes. Nous alertons les fédérations internationales. Régulièrement, elles nous disent qu’elles ne peuvent rien faire. Dans ces cas-là, on veut être en capacité de leur dire : « Ok, c’est nous qui allons nous en occuper ! » Fin 2013, nous souhaitons inclure ça dans le futur code antidopage. Je suis plutôt confiant.

    « Il y a du dopage dans tous les sports »

    Q : Le président de l’UEFA, Michel Platini, a récemment déclaré qu’il n’y avait pas de dopage dans le football. Ces déclarations vous ont-elles surpris ?
    JF : Il y a du dopage dans tous les sports. Certains font plus que d’autres pour essayer de trouver les tricheurs. Je ne nommerai personne. De la même façon, certains pays font plus que d’autres. Certaines agences antidopage sont également plus efficaces que d’autres. Mais nous pouvons encore améliorer les choses. Aucun sport n’est protégé contre le dopage. Pareil pour le football. Mais si j’étais dirigeant d’une fédération internationale de sport, je ne me risquerais pas à affirmer qu’il n’y a pas de dopage dans mon sport. Car le prochain Lance Armstrong pourrait apparaître dans n’importe quelle discipline.

    Q : Certains joueurs de tennis comme Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic ou Andy Murray demandent plus de contrôles antidopage …
    JF : Je suis enchanté de voir que des stars mondiales du tennis appellent à plus de contrôles antidopage. Je ne veux pas montrer du doigt le tennis qui est fortement impliqué dans la lutte. Mais c’est un vrai plus d’avoir des athlètes qui s’expriment en faveur de l’antidopage. Ils nous aident dans notre travail d’une certaine façon."

    1. (translation, sorry for my english which is not perfect – Vincent peut corriger ;) )

      Q : Would WADA want to have more power in order to, for example, investigate on its own ?
      JF : Yes, we must have this possibility. Every year, we are informed about suspect situations. We alert international federations. Regularly, they tell us they can do nothing. In these cases, we want to be able to tell them : « Okay, we are going to do it by ourselves ! » At the end of 2013, we wish we can include this possibility in the next antidoping code. I feel rather confident.

      « Doping exists in all sports »

      Q : UEFA ( ? soccer european federation) President Michel Platini recently stated that there's no doping in football (soccer). Were you surprised by this statement ?
      JF : Doping exists in all sports. Some of them do more than others to try to find cheaters. I won't name anybody. In the same way, some countries do more than others. Some NADOs are more efficient than others, too. But we still can improve the situation. No sport is protected against doping. The same thing for football (soccer). But if I was an international sport federation leader, I would not venture to claim there is no doping in my sport. Because the next Lance Armstrong could appear in any sport.

      Q : Several tennis players like Federer, Djokovic and Murray are asking for more antidoping tests...
      JF : I am very pleased to see that world tennis stars are calling for more AD tests. I don't want to point at tennis which is strongly involved in the fight. But it is a real « plus » having sportsmen talking in favour of antidoping. They are helping us in a way. »