Tennis' New Anti-Drug Rules: Using a Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut?

Marianne Bevis@@MarianneBevisSenior Writer IFebruary 24, 2009

The World Anti-Doping Agency—currently on display at its Media Symposium in Switzerland—appeared on the tennis world’s radar in January when it launched the new International Standard for Testing.

Suddenly, tennis’ elite participants found themselves burdened by the same rules as other athletes around the world. And there’s been a chorus of disapproval from a number of the top players.

Andy Murray is reported as saying the rules are "draconian." Rafa Nadal has said that the new procedures make players "feel like a criminal." Serena Williams thinks the regulations are “too much" and "very invasive."

So why are they so upset? Surely, the idea of harmonizing the rules across different sports and different countries is founded.

Now, players, team managers, sports’ governing bodies, and national sporting organizations all have the same anti-doping code. And clearly, the International Tennis Federation, who endorses the new rules, believes the new code is right.

But take a closer look.
Essentially, players must now tell the anti-doping authority where they will be over the next three months and specify when and where they can be contacted for testing for one hour each day, seven days a week.

Testers can arrive unannounced at any time and at any place. If the player fails to meet with them on three separate occasions over an 18-month period, he or she can be suspended.

Written like that, it does indeed sound "draconian." Tennis players, in particular, cannot predict how far into a tournament they will survive, and therefore, cannot have any idea when they will be leaving a location.

They could be going on to the next city on the tour, to their home for personal time, or elsewhere for training or injury rehab.

Serena says she “likes to do her own thing." Rafa says even his mother doesn’t always know where he is.

So, does retaining independence and privacy mean not sticking to the rules?

Does anyone, for example, know where Roger Federer is at the moment? Dubai? Switzerland? The USA? Well, the tennis authorities will know, even if we don’t.

He’s one of the few tennis stars not joining the chorus of complaints.

"I know it's a pain, but I would like it to be a clean sport, and that's why I'm OK with it," he said.

Indeed, in practice, the rules may not be as burdensome as they seem. For starters, if a player is not where they expected to be during their three-month schedule, they may e-mail or text their new whereabouts at very short notice.

And they don't even have to do this themselves. Managers, trainers, or associates can supply the relevant information on their behalf.

And if you think about it, the tennis elite can generally afford more support in the form of PR, coaches, and trainers than those in many other sports. So maybe, they have less cause for complaint than, say, rowers, pentathletes, or gymnasts.

Even this imposition may become easier as telecommunications technology marches forward. It’s possible, in the near future, that athletes could opt for automatic tracking via their mobile phones. Of course, that could be viewed as being even more intrusive, but it would certainly reduce some of the work.

For sure, there are reports of testers arriving at a player’s home the day after a long flight, despite having taken a sample just days before. In theory, it is possible that one individual will be tested several times in the course of one tournament—or even on a holiday. But this has been the reality of drug testing in other sports for years.

Tennis players, their fans, and supporters are unanimous in their views that their sport is one of the cleanest in the business. In that context, this code does indeed seem like a sledgehammer.

But sadly, in modern-day sports, a gentleman’s word is no longer his bond. Tennis players, like other top athletes, will have to live with the rigors of testing if they want to keep their excellent image.

Surely, that’s a modest price to pay to keep tennis’ reputation squeaky-clean?