Drug tests could fall foul of the law

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The Independent Online
A High Court judge, ruling on an injunction brought against the International Tennis Federation by Mats Wilander and Karel Novacek, has decided that the ITF's drugs procedure may be in restraint of trade under English law and may also be in breach of the provisions of the European Community, writes John Roberts.

If this is the case, it could have serious implications for anti-doping procedures in sport at large. The two players, who strongly deny any allegations of drug use, are challenging the validity of the ITF's tests.

Wilander, the former world No 1, and Novacek, a Czech Davis Cup player, are alleged to have tested positive for cocaine at last year's French Open.

Mr Justice Lightman concluded his decision by saying: "Irrespective of the outcome of this action, the ITF would I think be well advised to to reconsider Rule 53 [anti-doping procedure] and its drafting as a matter of urgency."

An ITF spokesperson pointed out that the case had dealt only with technicalities. "We believe that our rules are sound and will continue to defend them," she said. "This ruling does not have a bearing on the merits of the case."

The ITF's procedure allows for a player to be informed if an A sample tests positive and to be present at the B sample test. If that also proves positive, the player has a right to appeal to an independent review board.

Cocaine is a class two prohibited substance on the tennis tour. Positive test results subject a player to a three-month suspension for a first offence.

The ITF, whose anti-doping programme complies with International Olympic Committee procedures, had hoped to keep any action against players testing positive within the sport rather than through the courts.

Jack Rabinowics, one of the lawyers representing Wilander and Novacek, said: "Both Mats and Karel hope that this will persuade the ITF to cease any action against them.

"All along the players have denied that they took anything and have said that there must be something wrong with the testing. Almost everything the laboratory did, they seem to have done badly, and almost everything the ITF did, they also seem to have done badly.

"We are quite happy to go to a tribunal which would not have the players tied hand and foot and would look at all the evidence and say yes or no. But this is not a true appeals hearing, where Mats and Karel can have a full say.

"This is clearly not the same procedure as the one adopted by the IOC and many other sports governing bodies. The Court of Appeal said early in the hearing that it is a pity that all the governing bodies do not have one unified rule."