The tennis community witnessed its latest doping controversy as former world top 10 Marin Cilic (Player Profile) of Croatia was suspended for nine months due to testing positive for a banned substance in May. While the incident is straight-forward, there are many details that have been avoided and not fully discussed.
The incident essentially dates back to 2010, when Marin began to ingest glucose powder bought at any general store in Croatia, with a substance called “nikotinamid” listed as one of its ingredients. The decision says that Cilic has since “tested negative many times while taking powdered glucose containing nikotinamid,” hence he regarded it as harmless from an anti-doping perspective. When he arrived in Monte Carlo in 2013, he was running low on glucose powder and requested his mother to pick some up from the nearest pharmacy. Since they were in a French speaking country, there was a clear language barrier between the mother and the pharmacist and left with a bottle with “clear writing on it with the word “Coramine” in upper case letters and the word “Glucose” in lower case letters.” The man ingredients listed on the bottle in French were “Nicéthamide 0,125g” and “Glucose monohydrate 1,500g”. It is now understood that “Nicéthamide” was the French spelling for nikethamide, a stimulant prohibited in competition.
According to the International Tennis Federation, which released a 31-page decision decision from an independent tribunal, Cilic “asserted that the nikethamide, for which he did not hold a valid TUE, had entered his system through his ingestion of Coramine glucose tablets that had been purchased on his behalf from a pharmacy.” It is for this reason, which the ITF accepts as accurate, that the Croatian got a shortened suspension or nine-months back-dated to the date of the test.
Here is where it begins to get tricky.
The ITF states that Cilic was informed on June 11th by email that he had tested positive for the banned substance. This was prior to his first match at Queen’s Club, where he was the defending champion. He played the remainder of the tournament and lost to Andy Murray in the finals. On June 24th, Cilic played his latest match in the opening round of Wimbledon before “his lawyers in Brussels responded on his behalf, voluntarily accepting a provisional suspension until a decision in the case, and waiving his right to analysis of the B sample. He withdrew from Wimbledon, citing a knee injury to avoid adverse publicity.”
This is quite an extraordinary statement from the leading tennis federation. Not only have they incurred that Marin Cilic was guilty of ingesting banned substances but that he had lied about his reason for withdrawing from Wimbledon as well. Their decision not to punish the Croatian for this utter fabrication sets a terrible precedent for future events and incidents of this nature. Granted, Cilic’s results between May 1st and June 26th were disqualified as well as ranking points and prize money, yet this was not directly related to his lie, but due to merely being ineligible to compete professional during a suspension period.
The fact that his dishonesty was overlooked by the panel is a worrying notion. Athletes should not be allowed to avoid public adversity by lying about injuries to withdraw from tournaments. When the athlete is capable of acting in his own interests after being caught using banned substances emphasizes the lack of strict enforcement within the Federation.
The ITF panel also appeared confused when they attempted to determine Cilic’s guilt. It was clear that the 26-year-old had ingested performance-enhancing substances, but had he consumed them with the wilful intention of enhancing his training and future competitions? The panel resorted to the conclusions of the independent tribunal, which they accepted with “comfortable satisfaction.” They concluded that “where a player takes the product to get a “boost” just before a match, it is extremely unlikely that he could satisfy the tribunal that he lacked the requisite intent. Conversely, if he only takes the product between competitions with a long gap between the competition and taking the product, he could (with corroborating evidence) comfortably satisfy the tribunal that he lacked the requisite intent.”
While the decision to suspend Cilic for a brief nine months was a conclusion reached with the help of an independent tribunal as well as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), there appears to be a lack of understanding as to why Cilic was allowed to fabricate a medical injury to avoid public ignominy.