The governing bodies of tennis and the sport’s four Grand Slam tournaments will have to dig deep into their pockets to fund an enhanced drug-testing programme which will be in place later this year.
An agreement to introduce “biological passports” and to increase blood tests was announced yesterday, but the details have yet to be decided. The current budget of about £1.6m a year, which enables the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to administer the drug-testing programme, looks certain to have to rise sharply.
In the wake of the Lance Armstrong affair many leading players, including Andy Murray, have been calling for more stringent drug-testing. Blood tests are considered to be more effective than urine tests, but are more expensive to carry out. The testing programme is funded by the Grand Slam tournaments, the men’s and women’s tours and the ITF.
Across the whole sport the ITF carried out only 131 blood tests in 2011, of which just 21 were out of competition. The figures rose last year to 187 (including 63 out of competition), but Novak Djokovic, the world No 1, revealed recently that he had not been blood-tested for “six or seven months”. Cycling, in comparison, conducted more than 3,314 out-of-competition blood tests in 2011.
Cycling has used biological passports since 2008 and believes they have been key to the fight against doping. The passports monitor blood levels across a period of time and can give clear indications of drug abuse.
While the principle of biological passports has been accepted, no decision has yet been taken on how many players will be involved. The current programme operates a “registered testing pool”, which includes the top 50 men and women singles players, who have to provide in advance details of where they can be drug-tested every day of the year.
Maintaining biological passports for all those players would be a costly exercise – the passports require regular blood tests – but operating a smaller pool could lead to accusations that the programme focused too closely on the elite players. Nevertheless, the working group that oversees the programme insists that its aim is to increase testing of all players, not just those at the top.
The world’s top men and women have first-round byes in Indian Wells this week. Murray, who has lost in his first outing on his last two visits to the tournament, will face either Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy or Japan’s Tatsuma Ito in the second round. The Scot, who is seeded to meet Djokovic in the semi-finals, will replace Roger Federer at No 2 in the world rankings if he wins the title.
Heather Watson, who has been struggling to recover from an abdominal muscle injury, was beaten 6-2, 6-4 in her opening match last night by Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu.