Tennis: Pressure growing to punish Korda

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The Independent Online
PETER KORDA may be banned for a year after failing a drugs test at Wimbledon if the International Tennis Federation manages to overturn last month's ruling by the independent appeals panel it appointed to hear the case.

The appeals committee, comprising three experts with legal, medical and technical knowledge, decided on 21 December that Korda should be ordered to return $94,529 (pounds 59,080) Wimbledon prize money to the ITF and be deducted 199 ranking world points after testing positive for an anabolic steroid.

But the panel decided against a customary one-year ban stipulated in the ITF's rules because there were sufficient mitigating circumstances. After the hearing, which considered evidence from the ITF, Korda and his representatives, Korda said he had no idea how the banned substance had found its way into his system.

Bizarrely, the ITF now wants to take its independent appeals panel to another appeal after criticism of leniency. Mounting disquiet among players preparing for the Australian Open, where Korda is due to defend the men's singles title in Melbourne in 11 days' time, has prompted the ITF president, Brian Tobin, to call for the case to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.

"The ITF supports the war against doping and cheating," Tobin said yesterday. "I don't believe it is our fault the full penalty hasn't been imposed. We will lodge our appeal to CAS."

With less than two weeks to make an appeal, Tobin added, "My board doesn't meet again until Melbourne [during the Australian Open], but we'll have to lodge an appeal first."

Korda, a 30-year-old left-handed player from the Czech Republic, lost to Britain's Tim Henman in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. Korda's urine sample was found to contain the steroid nandrolone, a class one prohibited substance under the tennis anti-doping programme.

Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman and the women's world No 1, Lindsay Davenport of the United States, are among the players who have said Korda was treated lightly.

Bjorkman said Korda should have been suspended and that the ITF was "scared". Davenport said: "I think it's a little bit awkward in the fact that he [Korda] got off. First of all you should be well in control of what goes in you body. I don't think anyone just takes pills without knowing what it is. Second of all it was wrong, and it was illegal.

"Hopefully, there'll be some explanation to why they let him off instead of just saying, `We're letting him off'. It's one of the drugs where it says in the book that if you take it, it's a year off."

Davenport added: "It seems like in tennis there's always exceptions made. They are opening up a can of worms to make exceptions for everybody that tests positive to anything."

Jan-Michael Gambill, Davenport's Hopman Cup partner in Perth, said: "If they find someone guilty of testing positive to something like that, they should be out of there. All other sports do that."

Tobin said he was "delighted the players feel so positive about doping and cheating" and dismissed suggestion that the ITF might have covered up other positive tests. "We are not sitting on, or have sat on, any infringements of the [drug] code," Tobin said, adding that the ITF conducted more than 1,000 tests annually.

The ITF is preparing to cast its vote for a unified anti-doping programme for sport and will be represented at an anti-doping conference organised by the International Olympic Committee on 2 February. "The main difference in the proposed policy," Tobin said, "is that the minimum penalty for hard substances would be a minimum of two years' suspension."

While supporting the case for stiffer penalties, the ITF seems to find it difficult to impose the ones already in the book. The only other case involving leading players saw a lengthy legal dispute in the High Court after Sweden's Mats Wilander, the former world No 1, and Czech Karel Novacek were reported to have tested positive for cocaine at the French Open in 1995.

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