Rusedski blames ATP for drug 'scandal'

British No 2 says he is victim of 'prejudice' and claims men's tour is responsible for over 40 positive nandrolone tests
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The Independent Online

Quashing Rumours that he had ditched his tournament commitments and boarded a flight to England, Greg Rusedski arrived here yesterday, declaring that he intends to play on and "enjoy my tennis".

Quashing Rumours that he had ditched his tournament commitments and boarded a flight to England, Greg Rusedski arrived here yesterday, declaring that he intends to play on and "enjoy my tennis".

But despite his claims in an extraordinary 1,400-word statement that he has effectively been the victim of a miscarriage of justice in "one of the biggest scandals to surface in world sport", he had few wholehearted backers rushing forward to support his case.

"I appear to have been singled out for this treatment," Rusedski said of the decision to prosecute his case. The British No 2 claims that more than 40 other male players ranked in the world top 120 have produced "elevated levels" of the banned steroid nandrolone in tests. "This is wrong, unfair and discriminatory," he said. "Instead of prosecuting me, the ATP should be trying to investigate this matter."

Rusedski, who has admitted to testing positive, was whisked off the tarmac by a waiting car on his arrival from Adelaide and driven out of an airport side exit. He apparently plans to appear as scheduled in the Sydney International, which opens on Monday, weathering the intense public and media scrutiny.

Organisers of the tournament, a warm-up event for the Australian Open, said yesterday that the doping allegations were "nothing to do with us". Meanwhile, Paul McNamee, director of the Australian Open, said Rusedski would be welcome at the season-opening Grand Slam, which begins in Melbourne Park a week on Monday.

Back in England, the Lawn Tennis Association was being less than totally supportive of the player, saying he will have no excuses if he is banned for testing positive. Rusedski has said that he "had never knowingly taken the drug" but the LTA stressed that players are ultimately responsible for what is found in their bodies.

"It is a player's responsibility to make sure that it is a drug-free sport," said John Crowther, the LTA's chief executive. The organisation's performance director, David Felgate, echoed Crowther's sentiments and added: "I'm no doctor but I think the thresholds you have in your body are fair. There is a banned substances list and a drug is a drug."

Tim Henman declined to discuss Rusedski's claims that more than 40 top players had tested for high levels of nandrolone but said he was "as shocked as everyone else" by the revelations of the past two days. "It quite surprised me," said the British No 1, speaking after a defeat in Doha. "But I feel that it is good that it came out in the open and everybody knows his side of the story."

Part of that story is that Rusedski was informed about his positive test just before Great Britain played Morocco in the Davis Cup last year. Rusedski played despite being ill and lost the decisive rubber to Hicham Arazi that saw Britain relegated from the world group. There is no doubt that the drug test will also have been playing on his mind, although British tennis has more to worry about now than that defeat.

Rusedski's anti-doping tribunal hearing will be on 9 February in Montreal. The sample in question was taken at a tournament in Indianapolis last July. The 30-year-old left-hander, who faces a possible ban of up to two years, has said it was "a very complex situation which, once understood, will clearly demonstrate my total innocence". Some athletes found with nandrolone in their systems have said they took it unknowingly in nutritional supplements. Rusedski's statement yesterday makes it clear he thinks the ATP are culpable in his and the other cases.

Before leaving Adelaide, where he was defeated in the second round of the AAPT Championship, Rusedski once again asserted his innocence. "I wish to make it clear that I do not and have never taken any performance-enhancing drugs whatsoever, or any drugs of any kind," he said in a televised statement recorded in his hotel.

The former world No 4, who is free to compete until the hearing, added: "I expect to be found completely innocent of all charges, and I just want to continue to enjoy my tennis and play my tennis in Australia. That's why I've decided to come down here and play - because I know I'm innocent."

News of the positive test created a sensation in Australia, where the story was among the lead items on radio and television bulletins.

Fellow players expressed astonishment, although Pat Cash, the former Wimbledon champion who briefly coached Rusedski in 2001, said that as a professional athlete "he should know better". Cash, who split with him after an acrimonious dispute about money, told BBC Radio Five Live: "I am surprised, but he is the sort of guy who would stop at nothing to better his career. On BBC Breakfast, Cash said: "He says he's innocent. If he is, then he's just been very, very unprofessional and stupid for taking something by accident. He's a pretty brave man to think that he can get through this unscathed."

While he may have decided to stay in Australia and face the music, Rusedski did not exactly arrive in Sydney with his head held high. Expected at about 1pm, he did not turn up until four hours later, sparking speculation in the interim that he was planning to board a connecting flight to London.

When his Qantas flight finally landed, he was first to emerge from the plane, wearing a black shirt and trousers and sheltering behind dark glasses. He was escorted by security staff and his luggage loaded into an airport car. One security officer said later that he had been polite "but not chatty, I don't think he was in the mood".

The secretive manner of his arrival prompted comparisons with Shane Warne, a much bigger sporting figure in Australia, who fronted the media when he returned from the cricket World Cup after learning that he, too, had failed a drugs test.

If Rusedski can survive the limelight in Sydney, he will be "certainly welcome in Melbourne", according to McNamee. "He hasn't been found guilty or sanctioned," he said. "We know there's been an initial infringement, but until the hearing there's no sanction on him at all."

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