Tennis: Officials deny Courier's drug claims

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BRIAN TOBIN, the president of the International Tennis Federation, has denied claims by Jim Courier that the sport faces a major drugs problem.

The defending Australian Open champion, Petr Korda, is at the centre of a drugs controversy, having tested positive to the steroid nandrolone at Wimbledon last year. Courier said he suspects some players are using banned substances such as erythropoietin, or EPO.

"I cannot accept the fact that tennis has been killed or damaged by cheating and drugs because it's very isolated," Tobin said at the Australian Open yesterday.

"The point we are trying to make here is the sport itself is not rotten. It's not as if we have suddenly uncovered a whole cache of dopers. It's not like cycling or football. We've been testing now for 10 years and I can only remember six or seven positive cases out of more than 1,000 each year."

The women's world No 1, Lindsay Davenport, also weighed into the controversy, admitting she was suspicious of the "superhuman" efforts of some players on the men's tour, and saying that she agreed with Courier. She made the kind of speech Tobin had been trying to prevent, confessing to not knowing the difference between a number of different performance-enhancing substances, then offering opinions about them. "I don't know the difference between blood doping and steroids," she said. "I'm still trying to learn about it."

Mark Miles, the chief executive officer of the men's ATP Tour, said Courier's claims were both inaccurate and damaging to the sport's image.

"I've read and heard a lot this week - not just from Jim - that, in my view, was not helpful, not accurate, not a fair characterisation of the sport or the (anti-doping) programme and based on misunderstanding, lack of information or disregard for the facts," Miles said.

"We are not going to muzzle players and say: `Don't make any comment'... Personally, I think it is inappropriate for players to cast a cloud over the reputation of their sport without any substantiation."

Under ITF regulations Korda should have been suspended for a year, but escaped with a fine after an independent appeals committee in December upheld the player's claim that exceptional circumstances were involved.

The ITF has subsequently appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne over the leniency of Korda's penalty, but the player's lawyers last week went to the High Court in London to challenge the ITF's right to appeal.

The saga has upset some of the sport's leading players, who have blamed the ITF and ATP for allowing Korda to continue playing and giving the wrong message about drug-taking.

A former world No 1, John McEnroe, said: "I don't think that is the type of example that we need to start. Frankly, they have to crack down."