Loud cries of innocence to fall on deaf ears in a sceptical world

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The Independent Online

Greg Rusedski pleads innocent, says that he will fight with every unenhanced fibre to prove it is so. But he will have to understand, as will the legion of his tennis friends and officials who came bursting to his defence last night, that we have learned to be a little sceptical of such declarations.

Greg Rusedski pleads innocent, says that he will fight with every unenhanced fibre to prove it is so. But he will have to understand, as will the legion of his tennis friends and officials who came bursting to his defence last night, that we have learned to be a little sceptical of such declarations.

He says that it is a situation of great complexity but that he will make an unanswerable case for himself at his hearing in Montreal next month.

The problem is the world-weariness that attaches itself to every case of positive testing. Nandrolone can be absorbed into the body through dietary supplements, and it is an argument of defence which was mounted most strongly a few years ago when Linford Christie, the hero of the nation, swore that he too was innocent.

But there was a terrible backlash then from one the great pariahs of world sport, Ben Johnson, who was stripped of his gold medal at the Seoul Olympics when Christie, who had survived a positive test, collected silver. The fury of Johnson was terrible to behold. He said that so much of sport was hyprocritical, and that his greatest crime was to be caught.

After a rash of nandrolone positives, the Canadian authorities, whose Dick Pound is now the head of the world drug testing body, issued a warning that cut through the defence of contamination of supplements and the hazards such aids to fitness presented. The word was hard and serves as an immovable rule of thumb: a sportsman is responsible for his own body - and what he allows to enter it.

Of course the Rusedski affair has the effect of another fire-bomb on the morale of British sport... coming so soon after the positive test of the sprinter Dwain Chambers and the denial of so much of English football in the case of Rio Ferdinand.

At 30 Rusedski has been fighting to rescue his career and recover from injury; the suspicion he must overcome, is that he sought artificial assistance. Tennis must examine his situation with maximum concern because in one man's guilt or innocence a whole sport's credibility can hang.

All of sport is tainted by suspicion and now there may just be some reflection in high-powered football circles about the devastating effect of so much of the reaction to the eight-month banning of Ferdinand for failing to take a drugs test.

Ferdinand's club, Manchester United, called the ban savage and in doing so they confessed to ignorance of the meaning of responsibility in sport. Rusedski can expect a more severe sentence if proven guilty. Until then, he will demand to be regarded as innocent. It is the requirement expected by all who go to trial after failing a test. But over the years, the ears of the world tend to grow deaf.

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