Paul Newman: Gasquet gets off lightly in a game of kiss and tell

The Last Word: Tennis player's defence gives rise to snorts of derision: athletes are responsible for what goes in their bodies

Richard Gasquet is not the first sportsman to cite the fairer sex when explaining a failed drugs test. It was revealed last week that the 23-year-old tennis player told an independent tribunal that kissing a woman he had met in a nightclub was the most likely reason for the cocaine found in his body.

Daniel Plaza, an Olympic walking champion, was eventually cleared after claiming that having oral sex with his pregnant wife had led to a positive test for nandrolone, while Dennis Mitchell, a sprinter, said he had failed a test for testosterone after drinking beer and making love to his wife several times the previous night.

Other drugs cases have brought equally vivid explanations. Ross Rebagliati, a snowboarder, argued that passive smoking at a party had resulted in his positive test for marijuana, while Lenny Paul, a bobsleigher, blamed his positive test for steroids on eating spaghetti bolognaise containing beef from cows given drugs by farmers. Both men were cleared.

Gasquet was found to have committed a doping offence, though he was freed to compete again, only two and a half months after choosing to stop playing. The International Tennis Federation, fearing a dangerous precedent, sought a mandatory two-year ban and may yet appeal, as may the World Anti-Doping Agency.

You could argue that justice was done. Nobody suggested Gasquet took drugs knowingly. Having withdrawn from a tournament in Miami because of injury, he visited the Set nightclub in the city with a group of people that included a woman named only as "Pamela", whom he had met in a restaurant that evening. According to the tribunal verdict, they "kissed mouth to mouth about seven times while they were at Set, each kiss lasting about five to 10 seconds". Before parting company at 5am, they kissed again after Gasquet waited for Pamela to return from the toilet, "where she had spent longer than expected".

Gasquet's test the next day showed traces of a tiny quantity of cocaine, about the size of a grain of salt, which he ingested around the time he was in the club. His representatives said Pamela admitted she was offered cocaine at the club but denied taking it. She made a short statement to the tribunal but refused to answer questions.

The argument that Gasquet had probably ingested the cocaine through kissing was accepted by the tribunal, although the ITF suggested there were other possibilities, such as handling currency used to sniff cocaine or drinking a contaminated liquid.

Gasquet, the tribunal said, was not without fault. He should have been aware of the strong possibility that drugs would have been in use at the club, drank apple juice from an open-topped jug – which might have been contaminated – and kissed a woman he had never met before "and who, for all he knew, could be a drug-user".

But the tribunal said that Gasquet had successfully established a defence of "no significant fault or negligence". It concluded: "As a healthy, single young man who is not often able to go out and enjoy himself socially in the evenings, it is not unnatural that he should have been attracted to Pamela, to the point of kissing her. He is not the first young man to have done such a thing with a young woman during a social night out."

On that basis the tribunal was entitled to halve Gasquet's potential two-year ban but it went further, on the grounds that the Frenchman was only slightly at fault and failed the test having already decided to withdraw from the tournament. It ruled that while Gasquet's test was officially in competition, this was a technicality as he had made the decision to pull out the day before his first match. Cocaine is not banned out of competition.

Given the circumstances of the case and that Gasquet is evidently not a calculating drugs cheat, the outcome might appear fair, but the ITF are rightly concerned at the possibility of floodgates being opened.

If Gasquet's case had been a precedent, would Martina Hingis have been banned for two years after failing a drugs test for a small quantity of cocaine at Wimbledon in 2007? And what about Jamie Burdekin, a British wheelchair player, who, like Gasquet, failed a test for cocaine after spending a night on the town? Burdekin, who was given a two-year ban, claimed his drink had been spiked.

The Gasquet case undermines the fundamental principle of "strict liability", under which an athlete is responsible if a banned substance is found in their body, however it got there.

The war against drugs inevitably involves sacrifices. Britain's track cyclists are constantly scrutinised – those of us who talked to Chris Hoy after his heroics in Beijing last summer vividly remember him showing the gruesome bruising where his arm had been repeatedly jabbed by the blood-testers – but do not complain because they want their sport to be clean.

Part of those sacrifices involves not putting yourself into situations where you might be compromised. By spending some hours in a nightclub, consuming certain drinks and intimately kissing a woman he had never met before, Gasquet put himself at risk.

Provided the ITF and Wada do not make a successful appeal, he should count himself lucky to have got off lightly, even if the doping offence remains on his record, which means he would risk a life ban if he committed another one.

Suggested Topics
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower