© Ella Ling

Net detail

"Tennis players would benefit from micro-dosing EPO"


David Howman is the director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency and at a symposium on Tuesday, the New Zealander outlined a number of new initiatives in the continued fight against doping in sport. In recent years, many sports have failed to test each sample collected thoroughly enough, failing to test for EPO, the current performance-enhancing drug of choice. In an interview after the symposium, Howman discussed how tennis is doing in the fight against drugs.

Was tennis one of the sports that didn’t test properly for everything? I don’t think there were too many exceptions. At the moment, there’s no way for us to check sport by sport, because we don’t get the contracts between the sport and the labs. We’ve said this in a blanket way rather than a specific way. Tennis does test for EPO; the question is, how many samples go in for EPO? So, what we’re trying to look at is a better quality programme which says, OK, you’d better start with a full menu.

Cycling has showed that having the same body administering testing and controlling penalties is a disaster. Tennis is the same – the ITF controls anti-doping and hands out bands. Is that conflict of interest acceptable? I think the problem comes from control. The UCI have set up a separate, independent anti-doping commission. But who’s the chairman of that? President of the UCI. It doesn’t take a little bit of thinking to say, right OK, we will set this up and so and so will report to us but then we’ll have to do what they tell us.

In an ideal world would each sport have testers and administrators independent of each other? Yeah, we talked about that right at the outset of Wada, should there be a huge international agency testing right through the world. But you’d need a budget of a billion dollars; that was never going to happen. So you have to put up with the reality of the scenario, which is OK, this is how it’s done. What we have to reflect on, regularly now, international sport does about 15 percent of the testing around the world. The 85 gets done by the NADOs (national anti-doping agencies). We hear a lot of noise about the sports testing, but they don’t do that much.

Tennis players have been linked to some of the doctors have been banned (Italy’s Sara Errani linked to Dr Luis Garcia Del Moral, for example). In the new Wada code (to come in for 2015) you say athletes could be banned for associating with the guilty. How does this work? The process would be (in a case like Errani), she would be sent a note by the ITF saying Dr Del Moral is a bad guy, he’s been banned for X, you cannot associate with him. If it’s found that she did (after the notification), then she would be subject to a ban. That would be up to two years. It’s still in the proposal stage and there’s a lot of work to be done on it and a lot of people are a bit edgy about it, but it’s out there because we were asked to make sure these bad entourage people were not engaging with athletes.

The ITF reportedly didn’t spend their budget last year, reportedly. When you hear that, what does that make you think? I’m surprised by that. Unless they have something in the budget for result management and they didn’t have positive cases……(Note: the ITF spends a segment of its budget on administration). I don’t know, I haven’t seen the numbers. I think the best thing about tennis is that they’ve responded to the players this last couple of weeks. I’ve said before, if you look at guys like (Andy) Murray and (Rafa) Nadal, they were complaining about anti-doping three years ago. So if you build on the commitment of players you’re doing the right thing for your sport. If a player is saying, I want to be tested more and I’m really happy for our sport to be showing to be doing it….

Why are they now all in favour of it? You’d have to ask them. But if I were running an international federation and I used to be involved in tennis a fair bit, if you’re listening to your players, you’re doing the right thing. They’re the reason why you’re sitting in the seat you are?

Tennis is talking about introducing the biological passport. Any idea when that will be? Oh, I think they’re going to do it this year and we’ve encouraged them to get on with it. I think that would be a really good stake in the sand, if you like, to show that they’re keeping up.

You still hear some people in tennis say EPO is of little use to tennis players. How does that make you feel? So many people get off on saying, this is not going to be good for us. Marion Jones was using EPO. You can’t tell me that a player who is out there for five and a half hours couldn’t benefit from a little micro-dosing of EPO.

I spoke to top players in Melbourne. Mike Bryan said he had never been blood tested out of competition in his whole career. Look, don’t overstate the blood. Blood really, blood testing is for the passport at the moment and for a few substances like blood doping and growth hormone. We want more blood to be taken but it’s not the be all and end all. Urine testing has to be done, out of competition. If you do blood, that’s helpful for the passport, so if you establish the passport, you should be doing both.

That’s because there is a urine test for EPO? Totally. It’s only urine.

You mentioned in your speech that the new “blood bus” (a travelling blood lab) could come in handy in some of the more remote places, where it’s not possible to get back to the labs within the 36-hour window. Tennis players train in some far-flung places, including Kenya, so I am guessing this would be of use in tennis, too? Yeah, heck yeah. We’re working at that moment, with that concept in mind, with the ITF because they’re taking this pretty darned seriously. We’ll see what can be done.

There are a lot of governing bodies in tennis. Does that make things harder?Tennis was a little bit easier because they wanted to get the tours under the ITF umbrella. So what we had to do was to break down the resistance, from the ATP in particular, and the WTA a little bit, to Wada. The ITF had agreed. It took a wee while to do that. It was mostly as a result of the nandrolone issue and the pills. We criticised that pretty heavily and it took a wee while to get through. A lot of it is relationship building and getting on with people.

Every time someone is injured for a long period, there are always rumours that it’s really a drugs ban that’s been covered up. Do you think things like that have been covered up in the past? It could have in the past, but not now. I don’t think there’s any cover-up going on now. If it’s a positive case, it goes into our system….I should pause…if it’s a positive case that doesn’t go into our system and somehow that there’s a deal (saying) ‘you just stand down for a while’, then we’d never know about it. The only way that could happen would be if there was a crook in the lab.

Is there any way to collate the testing analysis between the NADOs and all the testing authorities, so it’s more transparent? You know what, tennis did that, they were one of the only sports that did but they cancelled it because they were one of the only sports that did. We can’t get it done because of the European data protection (laws). People are putting obstacles in our way where there’s good reason for publication to occur but they don’t want it to occur. I don’t understand. There’s nothing in the code that says ‘thou shall not publish’. It’s ‘thou may’.”

  • Bobby67

    Why is it always Errani’s who’s linked to Del Moral?

    Ferrer is barely ever mentioned. Why?

    Does the ATP asked you to do this? Is this another Agassi-like cover-up?

  • Paul

    Errani has admitted her association while Ferrer denies ever meeting or knowing the guy. Unless someone publishes a photo or other direct evidence, we have no way of knowing whether Ferrer is lying or not.