ATP steroid investigation attacked in Wada report

As Greg Rusedski continued his rehabilitation as a world top 100 player yesterday by competing in the quarter-finals of the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles, the ATP Tour's nandrolone investigation was criticised in a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

As Greg Rusedski continued his rehabilitation as a world top 100 player yesterday by competing in the quarter-finals of the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles, the ATP Tour's nandrolone investigation was criticised in a report by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Rusedski, who was exonerated by an independent tribunal in March after testing positive for the steroid at a tournament in Indianapolis in July 2003, was not mentioned in the Wada report, which reviewed the findings in seven nandrolone cases between August 2002 and May 2003.

Like Rusedski, however, the Czech Bohdan Ulihrach, who was exonerated on appeal after serving one year of a two-year ban, and six other players, who were protected by the ATP's confidentiality clause, were found to have an identical analytical fingerprint.

The ATP at first thought the source of the problem was contaminated supplements distributed by its own trainers, but tests showed this was not the case. Moreover, players continued to test positive for the banned substance after the ATP trainers stopped distributing supplements.

In its report yesterday, Wada said: "Now it is clearly established that the source of contamination is not the electrolyte, the legal analysis behind the seven cases is not sustainable. The consequence and the problem arising from the situation is that there are seven cases where exonerations were granted on what are now clearly unsustainable grounds and the exonerations may not now be able to be revisited."

The ATP responded by emphasising that none of the cases can be reopened. While admitting that it "simply does not know" the source of the nandrolone problem - "it could be a supplement we haven't found; it could be intentional doping" - the ATP expressed a determination to continue to investigate the cause.

Wada raised concerns about a possible conflict of interest arising from the fact that the ATP, which conducts its own drugs programme, is an organisation which is owned 50 per cent by the players.

"In many sports," the report said, "the disciplinary procedures are within the jurisdiction of the governing body of the sport, i.e. the International Federation, in most cases with no such player ownership. For tennis, this body would be ITF [International Tennis Federation]. In ATP's situation, there is obviously a perceived, if not real, conflict of interest."

Rejecting that, the ATP said: "ATP has prosecuted 15 players since January 2001 for adverse analytical positives. Seven of those 15 players were sanctioned with doping offences ranging from two months to two years. The tribunals that exonerated eight of those 15 players were, as Wada acknowledges, 'independent of the ATP and indeed, of the sport of tennis'."

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