Tennis: The Impact of a Biological Passport Program

Devil in a New DressSenior Writer IMarch 7, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 20:  (Back L-R) Juan Martin Del Potro of Argentina, Novak Djokovic of Serbia, Andy Murray of Great Britain, Fernando Verdasco of Spain, Nikolay Davydenko of Russia, Robin Soderling of Sweden, Roger Federer of Switzerland and Rafael Nadal of Spain  pose for a photo during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals - Media Day at the County Hall Marriot Hotel on November 20, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

It has been announced that tennis will introduce a biological passport program to aid in the fight against drug cheats and doping in the sport.

The case for biological passports got a huge boost when, in admitting to having used performance enhancing drugs in his cycling career, American cyclist Lance Armstrong praised the technology by saying it "worked." 

World No. 2 Roger Federer led calls for its implementation, saying: "A blood passport will be necessary as some substances can't be discovered right now but might in the future, and that risk of discovery can chase cheaters away," and hints about when the passport would be introduced into tennis had suggested it would occur sometime this year, however the turnover has been surprising.

ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti confirmed today's decision: "The implementation of the athlete biological passport is an important step in the evolution of the tennis anti-doping program as it provides us with a great tool in the fight against doping in our sport."


What is a biological passport?

Speaking to the BBC, Dr Michael Ashenden, who has acted as an expert witness in various high-profile doping cases, explained what a biological passport could do:

The passport is best suited as a monitoring tool, to help guide anti-doping authorities toward those athletes with suspicious results. In extreme cases, where the variations (from the riders' established norms) are quite radical, the evidence can support a doping violation on its own. But most times, results are either natural or suspicious, so the passport helps the testers focus on the suspicious ones.


The impact on tennis

Question marks over the adequacy of the drug-testing system as it was had been put up by players. Andy Murray recently lamented the preference of urine testing over blood testing and asked for increased blood testing and the introduction of the passport program.

While Rafael Nadal surprised the tennis world when he revealed he'd been subject to three blood tests and six urine tests over the seven-month period he was sidelined, arguing that it was important that the public is made aware of who has been tested and who hasn't been. 

The Nadal case points at a misappropriation of resources and a lack of openness about the drug-testing system. Murray believes that the passport would lead to a cleaner sport and greater public trust and involvement in tennis:

The only way you can improve your testing procedures is by having more of them and you need money to do that - it's a cost thing. But in the long term I think you save money because I think more people would come to watch sports, rather than reading all the time about these doping scandals.