Minister refuses to apologise over drugs slur

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The Independent Online

The latest doping scandal to convulse the élite game has turned out to be a storm in a tea-cup - or, more precisely, in a bottle of cough medicine.

The latest doping scandal to convulse the élite game has turned out to be a storm in a tea-cup - or, more precisely, in a bottle of cough medicine.

After 48 hours, the storm subsided to a minor squall yesterday, with the player in question, the US Open champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, looking certain to keep her reputation intact. The same could not be said, however, of Claude Eerdekens.

The Belgian sports minister created a sensation when he announced on the eve of the Australian Open that one of four women who took part in a charity tournament in Charleroi last month tested positive for a banned substance. He was swift to point out that the culprit was not Belgium's national heroine, Justine Henin-Hardenne, who won the Australian singles title last year. That left France's Nathalie Dechy and two leading Russians - Kuznetsova and Elena Dementieva, the US Open and French Open finalist.

On Monday the whodunnit began. All three women said they knew nothing about a positive test. Neither, it transpired, did the WTA, which was odd, for the sport's anti-doping rules require that players and governing bodies be informed.

Eerdekens then named Kuznetsova, in defiance of protocols that guarantee anonymity until a case goes before a tribunal. He said the substance was ephedrine, a stimulant found in cough and cold remedies, and not prohibited when taken out of competition. In a statement, Kuznetsova said she had a cold at the time of the event and was taking medicine. Yesterday, the chief executive of the WTA Tour, Larry Scott, fumed that in all his years he had "never seen a more disgraceful and irresponsible act by a sports official". The Belgian, he said, had committed "an egregious breach of ethical standards of confidentiality and due process".

Yesterday, Eerdekens was unrepentant. "I will never offer an apology," he said. "I did my duty - all of my duty. International tennis should be happy that we try to show that tennis is a clean sport."

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