Before we take our witch hunt to the doorstep of 22-year-old French tennis star Richard Gasquet for testing positive for cocaine in Miami in March, before we vilify him for lacking desire on the tennis court, for never fulfilling the unrealistic expectations that the tennis world and the French Tennis Federation (FFT) have shackled him with, let us please consider more than just the numbers, the Grand-Slams, and the Davis Cups.
Let us break from the strict guidelines that tennis' governing bodies so mechanically enforce, for this is a young man we are talking about, not a robot.
As stated on the ITF's website, the goals of the Tennis Anti-Doping program are as follows:
- Maintain the integrity of tennis
- Protect the health and rights of all tennis players.
If that is the case, then I don't see why Gasquet is in danger of being banned from the sport for two years, for using a substance that is clearly more of a performance hinderer than a performance enhancer.
But the World Anti-Doping Agency, in affiliation with the ITF, looks at stimulant use during a competition the same way that it looks at the kind of doping that they are really trying to prevent.
The stuff that the ITF and WADA want to eliminate is the stuff that slants the playing field in the direction of the user; what Gasquet did is make a large and definitely regrettable mistake, but he did not attempt to gain an advantage by doing so.
He's a 22-year-old kid, who much to our collective chagrin, can be a little less motivated than your average top ten superhuman.
He deserves a suspension, and I am not here recommending that he go scot-free. But WADA and the ITF, whose testing methods and demands are seen by players on the tour as unfair at best, need to realize that two years for a party foul is not in line with protecting the health and rights of all tennis players.
In my opinion, what Gasquet needs is a reasonable suspension, and then, preferably before the year is up, a second chance. Am I crazy to want for him the same thing I would want for myself, for my friends, and for my family, if any of us were in his shoes?
While the sport of tennis has done a laudable job at keeping the sport clean, some situations call for less rigidity and more flexibility. Tennis needs to sympathize with its players, and ensure that it's governing bodies vigilance isn't alienating the talent when it could be giving them a shot at redemption.
If it the sport doesn't take this approach more often, dissent will grow amongst the players and ultimately the sport will suffer more than it benefits. And that, more than Richard Gasquet's poor decision, would be the real mistake.