Tennis and Drug Testing

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Tennis and drug testing

Performance enhancing drugs and procedures have been in professional sports for quite some time. Over the past few years it has become a focal point in American football, baseball cycling, and track & field.

There is no question athletes over the past 10-15 years have had the benefit of better sports specific strength and conditioning training, and targeted nutrition. This has lead to athletes being able to perform at an elite level longer than at any time in history.

There are instances where athletes unintentionally ingest substances that are identified on organizational list as performance enhancers. That can be done through eating certain foods, taking prescription or over the counter medications. The matter of drug testing is not so much targeted in those areas, but is more concerned with intentional usage of drugs and procedures to, among other things;  train harder, recover quicker from hard training, recover quicker from injuries, and increase strength and endurance.

Stuart Miller, manager of the anti-doping program for the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said, “To think there is no doping in tennis is naïve. At the other end of the spectrum, is it reasonable to assume that doping is endemic within tennis? We have no evidence?”

In 2011, the ITF and the World Anti-Doping Agency conducted tests on 1206 men and 944 women Most of those test were of the urine and only 21 of those tests were out-of-competition. For the top 150 ranked players, that equates to about eight tests per man and six tests per woman annually.

There has been some discussion in tennis circles of doing a better job of pro-active drug testing by increasing the number of out-of- competition tests and testing blood more than urine as blood provides a better sample for detecting drugs.

Yannick Noah, former French Open champion, believes testing of players six times a year is not enough. James Blake has said, “In tennis, I’m sure there are guys who are doing it, getting away with it, and getting ahead of the testers.” Roger Federer and Andy Murray have called for more out-of-competition testing, specifically more blood testing versus urine testing.

Biological passport programs in track & field and cycling monitor the blood reading of an athlete over  time for possible tell-tale signs of doping.  The federations of those sports have used information gathered from these programs to ban athletes and target others for more testing.

Stuart Miller has said, “We’re working hard to try to increase the proportion of out-of-competition testing and particularly blood testing. We are looking very, very carefully at an athlete biological passport program in tennis. It would be nice if tennis can establish such a system in 2013. We’re looking at it to ensure that if we do run it we can run it properly.”

Performance enhancing drugs and procedures may not currently be a big or widespread issue in tennis; but it is a concern and being able to confront and manage it now is certainly better than facing scrutiny, scandal, or excessive use by athletes in the sport in the near future. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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