© Ella Ling

Net detail

Tennis and drugs - the contentious issues


Since 1995, there have been 63 incidences of doping in tennis. The top players are tested, on average, more than lower-ranked players and yet in 2010 and 2011, according to the ITF’s statistics, some players (including Venus and Serena Williams) were not tested out of competition at all. This week, The Tennis Space spoke to Dr Stuart Miller, the Head of Science and Technical at the ITF, which carries out most of the tests, to clarify some contentious issues. The comments in italics are by The Tennis Space.

I am looking at the ITF’s 2010 and 2011 testing figures (freely available on the ITF website). It seems some top players were not even tested out of competition at all in those years. How do you explain that?
At any time, a player is subject to testing by three organisations, the ITF, under the tennis anti-doping programme; the world anti-doping agency (WADA) and also, the national anti-doping agency of the country the player is in at the time. So for you and me sitting here right now (in the UK), we could be tested by the ITF, WADA and UK anti-doping.
Dr Miller added that in Olympic year, the International Olympic Committee can also test players during their “event period” – from the time the Olympic village opens until the closing ceremony

So, for the sake of clarity, the ITF stats don’t cover everything, because countries’ associations may have done testing and they are not recorded in these ITF stats?
That’s correct. And any other national anti-doping association of any country a player has visited could have tested them as well.

Is there any move to unify these stats so people can follow them more easily?
That’s the world anti-doping agency’s job. If they wanted to collate tests across all sports they are the only ones who are in a position to do so. Every anti-doping association has a responsibility to report its statistics on an annual basis and then it’s the world anti-doping agency’s test data, that they publish as they see fit.

The likes of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic were tested several times out of competition in 2010 and 2011. But how was it that, say, Venus Williams, was not tested at all, out of competition in in those years?
Firstly, there’s an assumption in there that isn’t necessarily true. If there is not a number beside a player, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t attempted to collect samples. The only numbers that are recorded on there are samples that are collected from players. There are things that aren’t reported on there. Take for example, Venus Williams. She is part of the registered testing pool and people in the registered testing pool have to give their whereabouts. They have to provide one hour a day where they can be located and are accessible for testing. People seem to have this idea that that is when you go and test tennis players. Well, that isn’t when you necessarily go and try to get samples from tennis players. It serves two purposes. If you absolutely have to collect a sample, then you’ve got the best chance of doing so in that one-hour window. However, it also acts as an anchor point that should mean that a player should be in that locality either side of that one hour.

So you don’t just go looking to collect samples in the one-hour window because that in itself has an element of predictability and all of our testing in the programme is what we call “no advance notice”. So under no circumstances has any player been notified in advance that a sample is going to be collected from them.

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.
According to USADA – the United States anti-doping agency, it also did not test either Venus Williams or Serena Williams out of competition in 2010 or 2011

So, these (failed) attempts, outside that hour, are not counted as missed tests?
No, they’re not. They have to fulfil certain criteria (to be missed tests).
(If a player has three missed tests in an 18-month period, they are subject to a ban)

Many players give 6am as their allotted hour. Could they therefore be tested at 3am, 4am?
In principle, yes. The rules of the WADA code say players can be tested any time and any place. Whereabouts information is strictly speaking, 6 o-clock in the morning until 11 o-clock at night. You’re right, a lot of players use that first hour in the morning as their nominated hour time slot. 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.

Last year, there was a report in the US that Serena Williams had locked herself in a panic room in her house, thinking a tester was an intruder. Did that count as a missed test?
That I can’t comment on. Unfortunately this is one of those occasions where a certain amount of information filters out and it’s information from one side and one source and it’s limited information. There’s another aspect to that, which is the anti-doping programme’s side, which unfortunately I can’t talk about. 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.

Dr Luis Garcia del Moral has been banned for life by Usada for doping offences. At the US Open, it was confirmed that Italy’s Sara Errani had worked with him in the past. In such circumstances, would the ITF have a word to point out it would be better to cut her ties?
There is no violation for associating with a banned person. That is a proposal for the next Wada code, that associating with a banned person in a sporting capacity would be a violation, but under the current rules it isn’t, so there’s nothing to stop players from doing that. It doesn’t take a genius to understand what the perception might be if they continued to associate with those people and I think it’s been reported that in Errani’s case that she has said she can’t associate (with him). I think she said that she’s talked to the ITF. It’s no secret.

Dinara Safina has not retired officially, but has not played for more than a year. Would someone in her position still be subject to testing?
The rules on retirement are clear but I can see how they could cause confusion. A player is subject to the anti-doping programme whenever they enter an event that’s covered under the programme or if they have a ranking point in a calendar year. If they have no ranking points and they’re not entering events then they’re not subject to the programme. So any player who doesn’t retire and who lets their ranking points slide away until there are none and they’re not entering events, then they’re not subject to the programme anymore. The second way you can not be subject to the programme if you do have ranking points is to officially retire (like Kim Clijsters). The benefit, or one of them, is you’re not subject to the anti-doping programme but the downside is that you can’t participate in professional tennis without giving three months’ notice. Safina, if she hasn’t officially retired and has let her ranking points slide to the point where she has none, then she won’t be subject to the programme.

So if she decided to come back at the Australian Open, she wouldn’t have to give three months’ notice?
Not if she hasn’t officially retired.

And even though she doesn’t have to give her whereabouts right now, could she still be subject to testing?
If she hasn’t got ranking points, she’s not subject to the anti-doping programme, so feasibly she could refuse to be tested.

  • http://twitter.com/Tehaspe THASP

    Well done. Tough to get a clear answer out of Dr. Miller.

  • http://twitter.com/Tehaspe THASP

    It’s interesting that Miller goes at great lengths to explain that other doping agencies “could” be testing tennis players out of competition. Are they? The USADA data suggests the answer is no.

  • http://twitter.com/Tehaspe THASP

    Miller states that the statistics don’t show attempts to collect samples “that haven’t been successful.” Why doesn’t he report those attempts in the statistics?

  • team_kickass

    I still have some addendums to what is written above.

    First, this still leaves a few things to be desired – like for instance the whole idea of “missed tests” becomes a sham for it is basically undermined by the fact that any non-collected sample out of the that one-hour window does not factor in… This is basically a giant loophole right there.
    While you are at it, the amount of blood-tests needs to be increased dramatically for only with those you catch EPO and the current state-of-the-art drugs they have in their system.

    Allow me a general remark, by pointing out that other organizations do test as well
    ( meaning the numbers could potentially be infinetly “higher”, as Miller would like us to believe) Miller only distracts from his own shortcomings – this is such bogus rhetoric move of his and very thinly disguised. He just tries to obfuscate the fact that his organization tests are non-sufficient and predictable.

    The real question than would be: does he deliberately constructs the program so that he won’t catch his biggest fish?

    My feeling is: very much so!

    You brought up Errani but you could have also mentioned the other players associated with del Moral. Still, kudos goes this very brave and equally rare interview, finally Miller got presented with some facts he much rather desperately tries to play down or keep silent about! Awesome, more pieces like, very courageous and way to go!

  • zebedee

    The simple fact is that the ITF aren’t catching anyone in a situation where everyone in tennis knows it’s going on and and where reasonable suspicion is strong.

  • Andrea

    I am sure that they are all on PEDS. In other sports it’s so easy to cheat without being caught! Why tennis would be the exception?

  • http://twitter.com/Tehaspe THASP

    Miller states “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.”
    Through this statement, isn’t Miller basically saying that the best time to dope is take a fast acting substance (e.g., a testosterone patch) at 11pm?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephen-Wayne-Turner/1527831189 Stephen Wayne Turner

    Serena was not tested for all of 2010 from the ITF information requested and also had a missed test in 2009. She had a mysterious foot injury supposedly for most of 2009 then returned for the US Open and behaved very erratically even threatening to murder a line judge. Then on Nov 1, 2011 Serena hides in a panic room calling police to avoid a 6:00AM drug test. Dr Stuart Miller says that this is the most popular time the players request to be given random testing so what was Serena so afraid of? Then last year she shows up for the US Open looking fitter and more muscular than in years and later in 2012 begins to dominate the Wimbleton and US Open like never before. Then she starts the 2013 Ausie Open like a 23 year old, not the well worn 31 year old she is, but gradually breaks down physically due to her old body refusing to take anymore. Very suspicious run of events.