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Keeping the sport clean

A credible anti-doping programme is crucial for maintaining the trust of fans and players alike.

“People have to believe what they are watching,” said Chris Kermode upon his appointment for a second term as ATP Executive Chairman and President.

Kermode’s appointment came just days after Maria Sharapova’s admission that she had tested positive for banned substance meldonium, while the sport hit the headlines on the eve of the Australian Open after claims of widespread match-fixing.

“More scandals would totally undermine our integrity,” Kermode said in an interview with The Times. “That is why we have the maximum incentive to catch athletes for breaking the rules.“

Kermode’s view was echoed by Nicole Sapstead, chief executive of UK Anti-Doping. Speaking at the 2016 Tackling Doping in Sport Conference in London last week, Sapstead warned that the professional sports must preserve the trust of the paying public.

“Cheating comes in many forms, be it doping, match-fixing, feigning a poor tackle or using a motorised bicycle in a competition,” said Sapstead. “If the public doesn’t trust what they are witnessing they are going to stop paying, coming out to watch or turning on the TV.

“The public wants a return on their investment by watching performances which are honest and real. We should not take a sports fan base for granted nor should they be taken advantage of.”

The Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (TADP) began in 1993 and since 2007 the ITF has administered and enforced the programme on behalf of WTA, ATP and the four Grand Slams. The programme, which is fully compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code, applies to all players who hold an ATP or WTA ranking, or who enter or compete in any ITF recognised event.

In 2015, a total of 4,433 blood and urine samples were collected – 2,256 during tournaments as well as 2,177 out-of-competition samples. There are currently eight tennis players listed on the ITF website serving suspensions for doping violations.

“I think all sports can do more,” said Andy Murray, who is a staunch advocate of anti-doping and was one of the most tested athletes last year. “It’s better than it was a few years ago, last year I got tested a lot but this year I’ve been tested twice so far this year, three months into the year, which is clearly not enough.”

But it’s not just about maintaining the trust of the general public; it is crucial for World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the TADP and tennis’ governing bodies that clean athletes believe the system is working and that drugs cheats will be found out.

“We now as an industry have a responsibility to implement thorough, values-based education programmes,” said WADA president Sir Craig Reedie when he gave the keynote speech at last week’s Tackling Doping in Sport Conference. “That means not just providing information but going further by instilling values in those that want to become athletes, and ultimately preventing those people from ever considering doping.

“We want to create a healthy sporting environment where doping is not an option.  That has to be our aim in the long run if the clean athlete is to prevail.”

Despite the negative press across the world of sport in the last 12 months, Sapstead believes the publicity can be seen as an opportunity.

“Anti-Doping is finally being talked about,” she said. “Whilst it might be because of a scandal or a crisis – sports, athletes, the media and the public at large are talking about it more than ever before. And for me, that can only be a good thing.

“For too long anti-doping has been treated almost like a bad word – pushed to the bottom of the agenda when it comes to a major event, its organisation; its functional areas.  Sports accept that it is a necessity but the less attention that it draws and the least one can get away, the better. 

“[This] is a great opportunity [for those] who hold the principle of anti-doping dear to talk more and debate what more needs to be done to protect the clean athletes and the purity of sport.”