The ITF Doping Policy Continues To Leave Some Feeling Victimized
Almost four years have passed since Croatian tennis was stunned by Marin Cilic’s suspension from the sport for a doping offence.
In 2013 Cilic tested positive for the banned stimulant nikethamide at the Munich Open. Following the incident, the Croat protested his innocence and insisted that he inadvertently ingested the substance after a member of his team brought some glucose tablets from a local pharmacy. Initially slammed with a nine-month suspension by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), Cilic successfully appealed for a reduction. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that the ‘sanction imposed was too severe in view of the degree of fault.’
Following the controversy, Cilic has managed to climb back to the tennis main stage following his stunning run to the 2015 US Open title. Since then, the Croat has been able to maintain his consistency on the tour by remaining ranked inside the top-15. It was the dream way for Cilic to bounce back from the incident, but still the case continues to anger him.
‘I had a bad experience with ITF during my doping case. People intentionally tried to hide facts to give me a longer ban’, Cilic recently told reporters in Indian Wells. ‘And those people are still there, no action was taken. Every time I think about it, I get angry.’
Cilic is not the only player feeling victimized by the ITF. Serbia’s Viktor Troicki was initially slammed with a 18-month suspension after refusing to provide a blood test at the Monte Carlo Masters. Troicki claimed that anti-doping official Dr. Elena Gorodilova advised him that he would be able to skip the blood test without any consequence, an accusation she denies. After appealing, the CAS concluded that he never intended to get away with doping and reduced his sentence to 12-months.
“ITF wants to justify its existence and to show that it is getting the job done – that is why they will try to use every tiny detail against you. What terrifies me is the fact that they are determined to ruin the career of every single player they have a conflict with. Their ultimate goal is to destroy their careers by imposing the harshest punishments possible.” Troicki told B92 in 2014.
Currently there is only one doping case being discussed in the world of tennis. Maria Sharapova is set to end her 15-month ban next month after testing positive for Meldonium. The former world No.1 argued that she was unaware the drug became a prohibited substance and won right to slash her suspension from two years to 15 months. Sharapova has since claimed the ITF tried to suspend her for four years, an accusation that they deny.
“I got a 24-month suspension but they [ITF] wanted four years for me. I went through the ITF hearing, which was in front of an arbitration panel which was chosen by the ITF.” She said in October.
As more scrutiny is placed on doping controls in sport, the ITF is under pressure to send out a strong signal. Last year they conducted 4, 899 tests (2,684 on men and 2,215 on women). ITF chief David Haggerty has previously hailed their doping policy, which is overseen by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“Tennis does a terrific job,” he said in September 2016. “We can do more and better – we have to – but we control that process, and I think that helps us.”
Whether or not the tennis’ governing body is using high profile incidents to showcase their anti-doping tactics remain a highly debated and sensitive topic. Few will dispute their offensive against the use of illegal drugs. On the other hand, given the fact the CAS is renowned for slashing their strict suspensions imposed on players, questions remain about their approach.