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Tennis drug test concerns raised as players allowed to ‘pick own times’ for examination

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Concerns over how tennis players are drug tested have grown, after it was revealed by the Mail on Sunday that the International Tennis Federation allows the top stars to ‘pick their own times’ for examinations. This comes after players were invited to select a slot prior to this Miami Open.

Anti-doping experts believe this method makes a ‘huge difference’ to drug cheats who are looking to escape detection of their wrongdoing. Similarly, players were allegedly also given comfortable notice as to when they would be blood tested at both the 2019 French Open and US Open.

The report reveals that ahead of the Miami Open, players were ‘invited’ to book their testing slots via the online ‘Tennis Anti-Doping Portal’. Nicole Sapstead, director of the ITF’s anti-doping programme sent a letter to all those contending in Miami that they were to be tested days in advance.

It is alleged some players were given as much as four days notice to book their slots. One of Sapstead’s messages read: “Appointments to provide your ABP sample will be between 09:00 and 18:00 on each day (between 19-22nd March 2022) and will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.”

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This method has been criticised though, the former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) compared tennis’s approach to the heavily scrutinised failure by cycling chiefs to expose the now disgraced Lance Armstrong. Luis Horta – the former head of Portugal’s anti-doping agency – led the criticism, commenting: “It’s the same thing as in the past in cycling, when they announced that they would test all athletes on the eve of the Tour de France. It’s not good.”

The ITF’s methods have been criticised for some time, with tennis great Roger Federer revealing in 2016 that he had been tested just once in ten years, which took place in the off season. The federation has been run by the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA), an independent body, since the beginning of 2022.

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In defence of the protocol, the ITIA revealed they give players notice to allow them to carry out more tests. In a statement they said: “The aim is to gather data from as many players as possible so we have the widest set of data to work from. Logistically it makes sense therefore to arrange this in advance once or twice a year, so we can test as many players as we can.

“Because we do this ABP testing on an ongoing basis – both with notice and no-notice – it does not make any difference if players  know about it in advance. Adverse levels will show, either with this test or through in-competition or out of competition testing.”

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