Reprieve for British No 2 leaves questions unanswered

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The Independent Online

In its outcome, and in other ways, the Greg Rusedski case is quite different to that of Rio Ferdinand, and not least in that while the tennis player waged a ferociously effective defence the footballer was guilty from the moment he missed a drugs test.

In its outcome, and in other ways, the Greg Rusedski case is quite different to that of Rio Ferdinand, and not least in that while the tennis player waged a ferociously effective defence the footballer was guilty from the moment he missed a drugs test.

However, in one vital area you couldn't slide a coat-hanger between the handling of their situations. They were just about indistinguishable in the supervisory chaos they exposed.

Both affairs have highlighted perhaps the single most pressing imperative in all of big-money sport. It is the need for a universally acknowledged testing system with a clearly stated operating procedure.

A world anti-doping agency headed by the vastly experienced Dick Pound of Canada is now in place and it is surely the duty of sports like tennis and football to dovetail their efforts to root out the cheats. Drug testing is, we know, expensive and never guaranteed success, but what has happened recently has revealed nothing so much as the wholesale disarray of the various sporting authorities.

The Ferdinand and Rusedski cases were allowed to drag along into ridicule; each passing day testing the patience of followers of football and tennis to breaking point.

The Football Assocation's reaction to Ferdinand's clear transgression of a basic rule was plainly conditioned by the absence of both a meaningful precedent and any straightforward procedure. The result was a delay in administration of justice that was so grotesque it could only have been exceeded in haplessness by the Association of Tennis Players, which finally concluded that they had been to blame all along.

This just isn't good enough from sports which market themselves into a frenzy and draw massive financial rewards from televison and sponsorship. When sprinter Dwain Chambers was banned for two years, chief executive David Moorcroft made great play of the massive expense to UK Athletics - perhaps as much as £300,000. But there is a price to pay for building new and decent foundations into modern sport, and sports which cannot meet the price have to ask themselves whether they deserve to exist - at least as contenders for public confidence.

Rusedski's routing of his ATP prosecutors - and the fact that eight previous defendents were acquitted - tells us one of two things. One is that tennis is as pure as fresh snow. The other is that its testing regime is as belligerently intrusive as an individual flake. Somewhere in between, you have to suspect, is a reality that simply isn't being engaged.

With each new episode of a Chambers, a Ferdinand or a Rusedski the sense of public confusion, and scepticism, can only grow. Each new case provokes a whole new debate, not just on the central problem of controlling drugs in sport, but the very details of the execution of that challenge.

In the process there is only one group of outright beneficiaries. It is the lawyers. They wax fat as basic certainties about who is cheating, and who is not, get ever thinner.

Rusedski's clearing of his name will be welcomed by all those who see each new drug conviction as another small death in the life of sport, another question about whether it has been bombarded to the point of extinction by the demand for success and its spiralling rewards. But if yesterday's announcement represents one passing reprieve, the most important questions present themselves as relentlessly as ever. Is sport really in control of its own destiny and is it properly geared for fighting its worst enemy? For the moment we are as far away as ever from positive answers.

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