Saturday, November 26, 2016


by Karen 

I grew up in Jamaica.  I am Jamaican through and through and I love my country dearly, but there was a point when I was a child when I hated living in Jamaica.  I also feared what my country had become, most of which was due to what I learned from listening to my parents and seeing for myself what I had to go through. 

In the 1970s I lived in West Kingston.  I went to the local primary school and the ruling party at the time was the PNP. Michael Manley who was then the Prime Minister in Jamaica adopted the maxim of Democratic Socialism.  It wasn't quite capitalism and it wasn't full on communism.  His friends during this time were Russia and Cuba and there was a steady stream of both in Jamaica. 

They ostensibly (mostly the Cubans) came to build schools (Jose Marti still stands as well as GC Foster College) and they sent their doctors, teachers and nurses to care for us in our schools and hospitals in Jamaica.  Most of our teachers, doctors and nurses had left Jamaica and the talk at that time was the last person leaving Jamaica, please turn off the lights. 

Most of the moneyed class in Jamaica left, and with them leaving, most of the money in Jamaica.  Companies locked their doors and things as we knew it in Jamaica were drawing to a halt. 

The media did a good job of telling the story from the views of the opposition. There were rumours that those of us who had houses (and my dad had just bought a house in Portmore) would have to share our houses.  Food shortages were now a regular thing and it was not unusual for us to have as our Sunday dinner dumplings and banana rather than the traditional rice and peas.  Rice, flour, sugar, condensed milk and many other basic food items were scarce.  As I got older I understood that it was because of our country's relationship with Cuba and that the USA (instigated by the CIA) were responsible for the food shortages. 

In 1980 when the USA backed JLP came to power, food shortages became a thing of the past and we could finally get American apples once again (not that we ever needed it). 

As I got older and became a bit more enlightened, I started to read more about that time.  I found out that Fidel Castro, along with Michael Manley was instrumental in the tearing down of apartheid in South Africa.  I learned about the freedom fighters in Angola.  I listened to the songs of Bob Marley, especially WAR which spoke about the tribulations of peoples in Africa and I became more conscious. 

I have always been on the fence when it came to Cuba.  On the one hand I believe in free and fair elections and for democratic rule.  I don't like authoritarian figures (hence my dislike of the GOP and Donald Trump).  However, one of the things that Cuba has done under Fidel Castro is to be a voice for the voiceless (controversial I know).  He spearheaded the movement that has now led to a free Southern Africa.  Cuba under Fidel Castro ensured that a young girl like me in Jamaica could have a nutritious lunch every day at school. 

It has been said that most of the people who left Jamaica in the 70s and took their money with them flew to the Cayman Islands and established businesses here.  They helped to set up the offshore industry which has made Cayman profitable.  Meanwhile, Jamaica suffered. 

It is interesting that most of the Cubans who left Cuba when Castro took power are themselves the rich elite who set up businesses in America and made it their life's work to oppose that regime.  I am sure that with the election of Trump and the death of Castro they are probably dancing in the streets. 

Yes, Castro was controversial.  Yes, he was a dictator, but at the end of the day, one cannot deny that in his mind and heart he had his fellow man's interest at heart. 

May he rest in peace. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016


by Karen

I am not an American.  I don’t live in the US.  I do however have lots of friends and family who live and work in the US.  Some legally.  Some not so much.  All of them have contributed in their own way to the US and what it has become.  They work hard.  They provide for their families, and for those of them who have the ability to vote, they have done so.

To say that I am shocked and appalled at the man that Americans think was fit to lead them has proven to not just me, but to many others, that Americans are their own worst enemy.

Every day I watch the news and during this past election cycle, I could not for the life of me figure out why it was that the news media kept harping on the non event of Hillary Clinton’s emails and not paying attention to what was happening elsewhere. Almost every day, whether she was up or down in the polls, the only thing that I heard about were her emails.  It got to the point that I thought to myself, is the media holding Mrs. Clinton to a higher standard than her opponent? The answer to that seemed to be yes.

When people are looking for an elected leader, I would have thought that they would have wanted someone with some amount of leadership capabilities, but apparently, in America, the criteria is different.  The fact that Americans went to the polls and thought to themselves that someone who has spent her life working for families and young children was not fit and/or qualified to be President said it all.  They instead chose to elect someone who lies, treats women like dirt, does not pay taxes and has no policy to speak of, except to build a wall.

I, like many others who do not reside in the US, could not fathom that Donald Trump, a man who speaks gibberish and who can’t seem to put 2 thoughts together, could actually become President.  During this past year, I have seen and heard the following from Mr. Trump:-

·         Grab them by the pussy
·         Mocking a reporter who is disabled
·         Calls for the banning of an entire religious people (Muslims)
·         Insulting the family who sent their son to die in combat for their country
·         Told a whole host of people from one country that they were rapists and murderers
·         Insulted the current President of the United States by telling him that he was not an American
·         Insulted black people who, because they are athletes, or entertainers, he did not consider them qualified to be surrogates and to have a voice
·         Has on his team a man who has been accused of corruption
·         Has himself been accused of sexual assault
·         Has actually admitted to sexually assaulting woman
·         Has criticized the media and has promised to amend the First Amendment so that newspapers and other media entities can be sued for libel

This is the man who Americans have elected to their highest office.

What gets me when I looked at the exit poll numbers were the large amounts of white women (57%) who decided that a man who will be going on trial for fraud (Trump University), and who previously had a trial fixed for rape, was fit to be President.  At what point in the voting booth did these women decide that it would be a good idea to elect this man to the nation’s highest office?

The media failed the people of America and the world.  Journalists who have been tasked with providing information to people became more interested in ratings.  Rather than realise that they had the Anti-Christ in their midst, they chose to accept the Mark of the Beast and follow along. 

Donald Trump is the President Elect of the United States. 

Barrack Hussein Obama managed to be President for 8 years.  No scandal.  No illicit affairs.  No one threatening to sue him.  Despite having a Congress and Senate that has refused to work with him he passed legislation that provided health care for millions of Americans.  That will soon be a thing of the past.  He provided tax incentives to many people who could not afford it.  That will soon come to an end.  He, working almost by himself, has tried to reform Criminal Justice so that the drugs laws which affect minorities could be lessened.  That too will now be a thing of the past.  I saw recently where the stock price of the largest prison in America has gone up with the election of Trump.  I wonder why that is.  

Already, we are seeing the signs of Trumpism with students being mocked and abused for their heritage.  We have Muslims who are running scared.  There are now protests in the streets of America against this man. 

For the first time in its history, America is on the brink of what could possibly be another civil war.  This time, I can only hope that it will make America continue to be great.  

Finally, as a woman of colour, I could not help but feel the pain of my fellow tennis lovers who are affected by the outcome of this election.  To you, I say keep the faith.  Going forward make sure you go out there and knock on doors.  Offer a ride to folks who don't have transportation to go to the polls.  Insist on making people be aware of what is at stake.  Many is the time we are being told that politics does not belong in polite conversation.  That is wrong.  Politics affect everyone's lives.   I say this because I have a story to share. 

My niece who migrated to the US about 10 years ago, worked as a door knocker for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.  She regularly went out and about signing up people and offering to drive people to the polls.  This was before she could even vote.   This year, she became an American citizen and voted for the first time.  She was horrified that so many of her colleagues, many of whom are women of colour as well as white women did not seem to be aware of the issues.  She was disappointed that so many women felt the need to disparage the failings of Mrs. Clinton and raise up the shortcomings of Mr. Trump. 

As women we have always been the nurturers.  We have always held ourselves to a higher standard.  When Melania Trump said that she had 2 young boys in her house, she was telling no lies.  She was telling all of America that if you vote for my husband, you are voting for a child.  She told us and no one listened.  I think the women who voted for Trump are similar to those women that you see who are in abusive relationships.  We always feel as if we can change the man.  This time, your decision has put a man in power who has no business being there.  I hope you are happy. 

To my LGBTQ friends out in tennis land, my heart and my prayers go out to you.  To my African American and Latino friends, you are not alone and to Muslim friends صلاتي معكم 

صلاتي معكم

Thursday, October 13, 2016


by Karen 

Like many persons out in the world, I have been paying particular attention to the Presidential campaign currently taking place in the United States of America.  Every 4 years I do so.  I do it not because I have a vote or because I am fond of the policies of either candidate but I have always thought it is a good idea to at least be aware of current events all over the world as they happen. 

Frankly, the way the US conducts its business should be of interest to people all over the world.  The President of the US is usually the person who mandates trade negotiations which impact people like me from the Caribbean who has seen their manufacturing and agricultural sectors die as a result of laws that have been passed by the US Congress protecting American industries from imports.   On a much more serious note, we see guns and ammunition arriving in the Islands of the Caribbean from the US and these guns have contributed significantly to violent crime. 

I currently live and work in the Cayman Islands and the clamp down on offshore jurisdictions has meant the loss of jobs and the moving of companies to other jurisdictions where they are not as frightened of the might of the US Government as we here in the Caribbean seem to be.  

When I started this blog in 2009 it was mostly to talk about women's tennis, and to open up a serious discussion on the way how the women's game was being treated by broadcasters.  Fast forward 7 years later and I would say that things have improved substantially since I first started writing about the women's game.  There is still a lot of work to be done but I suspect that as the women have become more outspoken in press conferences my work in highlighting the sexism that has permeated the sport, my role with my little blog has served its purpose. 

I started this post by talking about the current US Presidential election.  I have just finished watching Michelle Obama's speech where she is campaigning for Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire.  Mrs. Obama opined that the words that she heard from Donald Trump shook her to her core. I don't believe that Mrs. Obama was making that up. Her voice shook and she had the audience spell bound in her sincerity.  I can tell you that this woman from all the way in the Cayman Islands broke down in tears. 

The news media have called into question the tales of the women who have come forward accusing both Bill Clinton (Hillary Clinton's husband) and Donald Trump (the Republican Nominee) of sexual assault.  The question that is being asked by the media is why are these women just now coming forward. Let me stop right here and say this.  If they had come forward 10 years earlier or when it happened, would we not have heard the same questions being asked?  

As someone who has worked with women who have been sexually assaulted, or for that matter raped and degraded, it takes a lot for a woman to come out and say that this happened to me.  As a survivor myself, I can tell you that it is not the easiest thing in the world to do.  You are ashamed.  You feel as if it is your fault.  You blame yourself and frankly, if you grew up in the Caribbean, you get blamed for allowing this to happen to you. 

I have had family members who have been molested.  I have seen young boys and girls who have been molested. I have seen grown women who are married and whose husbands have raped them and beaten them to within an inch of their lives, you put them in shelters and when the time comes to prosecute these men, the wives and girlfriends recant.  

As a survivor who has been down that road, you don't condemn these women for recanting.  You don't condemn them for wasting the Court's time and you certainly don't condemn them because they waited too damned long to talk about it.  

Sexual assault is an intrusion into a woman's private space.  I have seen marriages and relationships end because the woman's partners were unable to deal with their partners being abused.  It is a double blow for the woman as not only has she been violated, but the person who should be standing with her through this crisis is too weak to do so.  For these women who have come out and spoken against both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, it took a lot of courage.  It meant reliving their worst nightmare.  It meant opening up themselves to new lines of attack against their character. 

I wish that this had not become an issue.  If it is that politicians wished to speak about sexual assault, they should really be speaking about it in terms of protecting women with proper legislation.  They should be talking about creating shelters for these women and crisis centers where the women and their children could be safeguarded.  In the same way that politicians in the US speak about fighting terrorists, they should be talking about protecting the most vulnerable in society with the same amount of zeal and effort. 

I don't live in the US but I can't imagine that well thinking people are happy about the way in which this supposedly greatest democracy on earth is conducting itself for the world to see.  It is incredibly disappointing.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016


by the Spin Team

When Fancy Bears, a group of Russian hackers obtained information from WADA on American athletes, there were many who were of the view that finally someone was going to expose the corruption that is supposedly rampant amongst Olympic participants.  Fancy Bears made sure that they obtained the medical information of prominent American athletes and they leaked this information into the public domain. Athletes like Venus and Serena Williams and Simone Biles had their confidential medical information exposed for the world to see, but as we have seen the only thing that the Fancy Bears hacking exposed is that there is a prescribed protocol for athletes to follow when it comes to taking medication that is otherwise on the list of WADA prohibited substances.

This morning (4 October) the Court of Arbitration for Sport (“CAS”) made its decision in the case of ITF v. Maria Sharapova.  As most of you may recall the ITF handed down a 2 year ban from the sport to Ms. Sharapova on the basis that she was negligent even though she did not intend to dope (take that for whatever it means).  Today, CAS reduced that 2 year ban to 15 months, which means that Ms. Sharapova can return to competition in April 2017. 

Prior to CAS’ results being made available to the public, we saw Sharapova posting pictures on social media actively training.  One only therefore has to speculate that she already knew CAS’ decision.  There were many tennis commentators who took to social media over the last few days expressing support for Sharapova and hoping that her 2 year ban would be overturned.  They got their wish. 

There was an article being posted on social media that speaks about the so called integrity of tennis.  The writer opined that part of the so called “clean image” that tennis has is its lax testing policy.  I will go further and say that there are those in tennis who prefer that the image of tennis be seen as a clean sport.  The ITF and its subsidiaries (ATP/WTA) make a mockery of the word integrity.  The Tennis Integrity Unit (“TIU”), an underfunded, understaffed entity, tries to fool the rest of the world into thinking that it is doing a stand up job, when it announces the lifetime ban of a player ranked 1,000 from the sport, someone who no one has ever heard of, on the basis that said person is bringing the sport into disrepute.

Upon the announcement of Ms. Sharapova’s reduced ban, her racquet sponsor, HEAD sent a congratulatory tweet.  

How is this even appropriate?  It was bad enough when said racquet sponsor’s chief executive made ridiculous statements about her use of a prohibited substances, a congratulatory tweet is not only damaging to that particular brand, but seems to suggest that a reduction in a ban is something to be celebrated.  How did we get to this place? 

Tennis, and tennis players, tries to portray itself as a role model for young people. There are many former athletes who have become political and they speak about honouring the integrity of the sport by competing fairly and honestly.  For 10 years, Ms. Sharapova took a drug that was not only not prescribed for her, but was taken in such a way as to improve her performance during matches.  The fact that the ITF described her attitude as negligent says it all.  Indeed, if we recall, neither Ms. Sharapova or her team of lawyers provided any evidence to the ITF that the drug she was taking was medically necessary.

As we saw in the Fancy Bears leak, if an athlete has an illness and is prescribed drugs, the next step is to obtain a therapeutic use exemption (“TUE”).  The question that needs to be asked before Ms. Sharapova returns to the WTA Tour is whether she has applied for, and been granted a TUE for a drug that both she and her lawyers have claimed was medically necessary.  If she has not, then we are only left to believe that not only was the taking of the drug during all those years medically unnecessary, but that despite the ITF and CAS’ ruling, Ms. Sharapova was indeed intentionally doping.

I am sure that Ms. Sharapova’s sponsors, her management agency are all quite happy at this outcome. However, tennis fans, especially those who have become sick and tired of so called stars flouting the system and getting away with it, may not welcome Ms. Sharapova’s return with open arms.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016


The Spin Team

Hey Russia, we get it.  You are mad. You are pissed. We get it.  The world realizes that you are losing money as your global superstars are banned from competing for their doping offenses. We get that in supposedly lily-white sports like gymnastics and tennis, two of the biggest stars that the world has ever seen are Simone Biles and Serena Williams. They have taken their sports into stratospheric levels with their athleticism, focus, and strength. In the end, they are just fucking better than your athletes! 

We get it. 
A few days ago, a group originating in Russia hacked the WADA website and obtained medical information for Venus and Serena Williams as well as gymnast Simone Biles.  However, instead of shaming these athletes, the hacking revealed that there are rules and it does not take a lot for ethical athletes to follow them.

Earlier this year doping offender Maria Sharapova was among the almost 200 athletes, most of whom were from Russia, that tested positive for the prohibited substance Meldonium. The early reports were that she had a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) for using Meldonium.  Sharapova, at that time, stood in front of a microphone with the whole international press corps and told the world that she suffered from a heart condition, had a trait of diabetes and legally took the drug. As we now know, the ITF did not believe her, her uber agent, or her lawyer and gave her a 2-year ban from the sport.  This decision is under appeal from the Court for Arbitration for Sport ("CAS"), which is expected to hand down its decision shortly. 

The Russians were mad. How could they indict Russia's greatest product since plutonium?  Many in the tennis media hoped that Sharapova had a TUE or suggested that she apply for a retroactive TUE.  In order to get a TUE, as can be seen from the Russian hack, one has to not only apply for the TUE, but one has to prove to a panel of independent doctors (remember not your own doctor) that the medicine in question is necessary by providing medical evidence. While Sharapova did not take the time to apply for a TUE, Venus and Serena did just that.  

Much is being made of the list of drugs on their forms.  In fact, all of the drugs noted on the medical forms are anti-inflammatories, i.e. painkillers.  Some of them are drugs, which are used to treat arthritis and muscular pain.  I may be missing something here but as athletes, both Venus and Serena are likely to carry niggling injuries throughout the year.  What do people expected them to take, Advil?

Prior to the Rio games, Serena had been suffering with a sore shoulder, which impacted her greatest weapon, and Venus had been wearing tape for most of the past 5 years.  The TUEs showed that both women used whatever therapy or medication they could in order to play and compete at the highest levels of their profession.   Unfortunately for the hackers, rather than making a case for Serena and Venus competing dirty, they have proven that there is a system in place for athletes who have serious medical conditions (such as the one Sharapova hinted at) to take drugs legally and ethically.

While I’m grateful the hackers have proven that the TUE is a viable option for using potentially banned substances, I’m not about to congratulate them for invading the privacy of two of the most celebrated women in tennis.  For years, neither Venus nor Serena has sat down in press and detailed their many injuries.  They have remained very reticent about discussing any ailments, leaving it up to the gutter press that masks itself as journalists as well as rabid anti tennis fans to speculate.  Recently, though they have taken steps to discuss their injuries with the media.  Venus spoke about her diagnosis 5 years ago with Sjorgen's Syndrome and Serena has talked about her near death experience with a pulmonary embolism. 

However, the hack revealed more than the sisters would like others to know about their medical conditions. The release of that information not only gives a mental edge to their opponents, but also has sown seeds of doubt about Venus and Serena. For tennis fans, most of whom are only fans of Sharapova (a convicted doper) to malign Venus and Serena for actually following the rules of their sport and the anti-doping bodies does not, in my opinion, bode well for the sport of tennis. 

This blog took a very hard line regarding Sharapova's doping offence and will continue to do so against any player (no matter who they are) that cheats while competing.  It goes against the very spirit of sport.  Yet, I do not celebrate the invasion of the privacy of others just to prove the sport is clean. These hackers have shattered whatever confidence any athlete (yes your faves and mine) had in WADA to keep their information confidential. Surely, we can work to maintain a clean sport without breaking ethical and legal codes.


 In the midst of writing this piece I was informed that the medical information of Bethanie Mattek-Sands as well as Petra Kvitova has now been released.  Where does this end?

Thursday, June 30, 2016


by Karen

Today on Day 4, Venus Williams, a 5 time champion at The Championships, Wimbledon played her second round match on Court 18.  Social media was of course up in arms at this.  The arguments were made that a 5 time champion of this event should be given any of the main show courts until the day she hangs up her racquet.  I agree with this wholeheartedly.  However, on the other hand, there are fans who have travelled from far and wide whose sole purpose is to see Venus Williams play on the lawns on Wimbledon.  For them this was like the best of both worlds.  They were able to see Venus up close and personal, in a match, that for all intents and purposes may not have gone Venus' way.  They showed her battling her young opponent and they saw her use her skills and experience to break through.

While I was watching the Keys/Flipkens match, I overheard in the commentary booth the following discussion after a ball was called out, and there being no Hawk Eye on that particular court, Keys could not challenge.  The discussion went something like this:

Commentator No. 1 - this is why you need to get your ranking up so you can play on the big courts
Commentator No. 2 - yes. but what about Venus who is a 5 time champion here being placed on Court 18
Commentator No. 1 - well you just play and get on with it.

Madison Keys is in the top 10 and a quarter finalist here last year.  Venus is ranked No. 8 and is a 5 time singles champion and has won countless doubles titles also at Wimbledon. She has also won a gold medal in doubles with her sister at the 2012 Olympics.  Not quite sure what else she needed to do to ensure that she played on a main show court.

I asked tennis fans their thoughts on Venus having to play on Court 18 and these were the responses:

From Matt Zemek

Friday, April 8, 2016


by The Spin Team

Ever since the Press Conference when Maria Sharapova announced to the world that she had failed a doping control test for the banned substance Meldonium (Mildronate), there have been hundreds, nay thousands of articles written about Meldonium.  Within the same time period, approximately 140 other athletes from various countries have tested positive for Meldonium. Ms. Sharapova indicated that she started taking the drug 10 years ago for a variety of medical symptoms, including a family history of diabetes, magnesium deficiency and an irregular EKG. I have not seen any article which proposes Meldonium as a standard treatment for any of Sharapova’s listed medical issues,  nor have any of the other athletes indicated that they were suffering from angina (chest pains) and myocardial infarctions (heart attacks).

Why am I writing about this again?  I am writing because as more and more athletes test positive for Meldonium, the public has begun to question if this drug should have been placed on WADA’s list of banned substances. They appear to believe that all of the athletes who tested positive must have had legitimate reasons for using a drug meant to help patients suffering angina and myocardial infarctions. Some articles are even suggesting that there is a plot to discredit Russian athletes by having this non-performance enhancer drug be banned.  People are so eager to have Ms. Sharapova back on Tour that they are lobbying for the removal of Meldonium from the banned list and suggesting that WADA should have done more to provide information and explicit warnings to athletes.

In December 2015 a study in Drug Testing & Analysis stated that Meldonium benefits include “an increase in endurance performance of athletes, improved rehabilitation after exercise, protection against stress, and enhanced activations of central nervous system (CNS) functions" [Wikipedia].  The manufacturer of Meldonium has indicated that the drug is used to “prevent death of ischemic cells and not to increase performance of normal cells”. They suggest that “Meldonium cannot improve athletic performance, but it can stop tissue damage in the case of ischemia,” (lack of blood flow to the heart” [Wikipedia].

So, 140 athletes have used a drug which the drug manufacturer now states is not a performance enhancer, cannot be used as a performance enhancer and therefore, should not have been placed on WADA’S banned list.  Why then were these athletes using the drug? Performance Enhancing “relates to a substance, typically one banned for use in competitive events that is taken by an athlete or sports player to improve their performance”.  Most of the time when we hear about performance enhancing, we usually think about these huge muscle bound athletes, or in the case of tennis, athletes who can hit big booming serves, or who can run and run all day and never seem to get tired. This is the reason why players such as Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal are always accused of doping.

Did you know that there are different types of performance enhancement? The United States Anti-Doping Agency (“USADA”) website lists the following:  

·          Anabolic hormones – promotes muscle growth;
·          Peptide hormones, growth factors & related substances – stimulates growth and cell reproduction and regeneration in humans; aids in the production of oxygen carrying blood cells in the body;
·          Beta-2-agonists – used to treat conditions such as asthma & other respiratory ailments; evidence shows that some have been used as a performance enhancer;
·          Diuretics – expel water from a body; used by athletes with weight restrictions;
·          Masking agents – used to prevent the detection of other classes of drugs;
·          Stimulants – used to stimulate the body & mind to perform at optimal levels by increasing focus, energy & aggression; used to treat ADD (e.g. caffeine)
·          Narcotics – mask pain so that athletes can continue to compete & perform beyond their usual pain thresholds
·           Marijuana – slowed coordination & reaction time; distorted sense of time & place; increased heart rate

Apart from the treatment of angina and myocardial infractions, Meldonium’s own manufacturer suggests that it improves physical capacity and mental function in the case of ischemia [an inadequate blood supply to an organ or part of the body, especially the heart muscles] and healthy people.”  Maybe this is the reason why so many athletes thought it would be beneficial to them. Wouldn’t such a reason justify why WADA considers it a performance enhancer? In addition, even if the drug manufacturer’s lied about Meldonium’s capacity (and there does seem to be conflicts about its real impact), WADA’s code doesn’t say the drug has to be a proven enhancer, it simply says that its presence in the athlete’s body is a violation once it has been listed on the banned list. In the case of Sharapova, one now has to wonder at the many times she was lauded for her mental toughness, all while using a substance she and other athletes were led to believe were having a profound impact on her physiology and her mentality.

In the course of writing this article, the New York Times printed an article indicating entire teams from the Russian Federation have been pulled from the upcoming Ice Hockey World Championships to be held in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  The article in its entirety can be found here.   It is alleged that some or all of the athletes have tested positive for Meldonium.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


the Spin Team

As the players have gathered in Indian Wells for the BNP Paribas Open, they have been asked about Maria Sharapova’s doping violation. Their comments both surprise and disappoint me as a fan of the game.  Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times wrote a piece in which he provided quotes from several players and coaches with whom he spoke on the question of what,  if any,  attention do they pay to the emails that they receive from WADA. If the quotes attributed to these athletes/coaches are true, I am appalled that professional athletes pay so little or no attention to WADA’s email on the list of prohibited substances.

“No one clicks that link,” said Jiri Fencl, a Czech coach.

I just have my vitamins, so I don’t really have to check it,” ninth ranked Petra Kvitova said. “So I’m not really reading that. To be honest, I’m also not really checking those emails,” she said. “That’s what my doctor is doing, and my agent.”

“I don’t read so much, because the only thing I take is sometimes some aspirin,” he said. “I don’t take vitamins. I take anti-inflammatories. So it’s O.K. But when I have something to do, of course I call the doctor. I know there is a list, every year you need to read it, but I don’t read so much.” Fourth-ranked Stan Wawrinka said: “I don’t read what they change on the list, because I don’t take anything. But if I have to take a medicine, I will check if it’s on the list or not, and then I will ask my doctor if it’s on the list or not. ”

While one can understand that professional athletes are often too busy to sit down and go through what is no doubt a long email with several links etc., it boggles the mind that in this day and age professional athletes will just flippantly state that they don’t read the emails from WADA or have a process to ensure that the email is read by someone on their team.

For most folks who work in certain industries where providing information to clients/customers on a timely basis is a key to success, the importance of reading emails and other correspondence cannot be overlooked.   I cannot, therefore,  understand how it is that a professional athlete whose first responsibility should be what goes in their bodies, can decide that reading an email from their governing body about what substances are prohibited is seen as a bothersome inconvenience. Ultimately, they put themselves at risk for falling afoul of the rules as Ms. Sharapova has done.

Why do these tennis players show so little interest in anti-doping? Is tennis so lax in its doping control that they feel they don’t need to even think about it? Are the consequences so small that they would risk a doping violation? Regardless of the reasons, I find their lax approach to their careers damning and irresponsible. However, tennis players are not alone in their contempt for doping controls. Fans also seem to care very little about the cleanliness of a sport that they profess to love.  A few years ago, I read an article in which the writer sought to outline why many fans are apathetic about doping in sports.  The article stated that most fans don’t really care whether their favourite team, or athlete is doping, because they watch sport to see the boundaries to which humans can push their bodies. The athletes they love become extensions of themselves and with whom they identify. Their love has very little room for critical reflection; it is why fan is the short form of “fanatic.”  I don’t buy into this argument, but the writer clearly has a point because zealous tennis fans have actually begun to question the merits of an anti-doping program in general! 

What hope can we have for tennis fans to take anti-doping seriously when, like current players, ex-players join in the chorus of disregarding its value?  This morning a tweet from Neil Harman led me to a 4-page letter from Andrea Yaeger, lauding Ms. Sharapova for her contribution to tennis and her humanitarian efforts, especially on behalf of victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Sister Yaeger is a former tennis pro who left the WTA tour to pursue life as a nun. In Sister Yaeger’s letter, she can only point to Ms. Sharapova’s contributions to tennis in very general terms. However, her most egregious turn is taking a swipe at her unnamed former colleagues (and one gets the impression current players) whom she portrays as dishonest and failing to contribute to the sport as Ms. Sharapova has done.

Why is it inconceivable that Ms. Sharapova can do well for her sport and take a banned substance?  The sad fact is that Ms. Sharapova could just as easily have been “a wonderful role model, incredibly hard working and talented player and a morally conscience person of the highest level. Society and humanity have benefited from your over decade of contributions to tennis, sports, humanitarian causes and business ventures” as Sister Yaeger points out,  and still remain fallible enough to take a drug that is listed on WADA’s prohibited list. The two things are not incompatible and therefore it does not mean that Ms. Sharapova should not be held to the very high standards Sister Yaeger believes she has not previously broken.  

Sister Yaeger is concerned that in Ms. Sharapova’s long and illustrious career she has made this one fault and therefore should be forgiven. She will be and should be treated with compassion after she accepts and serves her punishment. We can respect tennis’s anti-doping penalty AND continue to hold Ms. Sharapova in the high regard Sister Yaeger is advocating.

It is a disservice to those who have also built the WTA that they did not receive such loud and boisterous support from Sister Yaeger during their grievous moments on the Tour. Where was Sister Yaeger when Serena Williams made her “one” fault at the 2009 USO?  Did she write a letter to Serena and to the world asking everyone to forgive her?  When Serena cut her foot in 2010 after winning Wimbledon and ended up with a pulmonary embolism as a result and the rumours of doping circulated far and wide, did she reach out to Serena and say I am praying with you?  When both Williams sisters were booed and called names in their tender years at Indian Wells, did she reach out to either of these 2 American women and their family to tell them how sorry she was that they had to experience this? Yes, Sister Yaeger can choose to write letters defending an admitted doper. She has the right to do so, but please don’t think that pointing to Ms. Sharapova’s humanitarian efforts means she’s less culpable for breaking WADA’s anti-doping rules.  

We are complicated human beings who can acknowledge the good and the bad that Ms. Sharapova has committed.  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016


The Spin Team

When we first moved into this house at Blogger in 2009 we had no idea that at some point we would seek to expand. 

We never thought we would see the day when our love of this sport of tennis would see us becoming one of the most well liked blogs in tennis.  We may not have a lot of followers on social media but our page count assures us that sometimes a voice like ours is needed in tennis land. 

We wish to take this opportunity to thank our many readers, followers and of course Blogger for making the Overhead Spin relevant. We could not have done it without you.  We will continue to maintain this site and you will be able to read archived materials here, but our new home will be over at

The site is still a work in progress but we hope to finalise everything by the end of the month. 

Thanks once again for making the Overhead Spin part of your daily tennis reading. 

Monday, March 14, 2016


the Spin Team

On the day that Maria Sharapova stood on a podium in a downtown Los Angeles hotel, criticised the hotel carpeting in the midst of telling the whole world that she had been provisionally banned by the ITF as a result of a failed doping test, the image which has been built by the best PR image makers that IMG money can buy, has struck an odd and discordant note. It is clear from Maria's tweets and Facebook posts that she does not see the irony of her situation.

Her team, including her attorney, John Haggerty, have been at pains to let the world know that what occurred with Sharapova was a mistake. She had failed to click a link in an email from WADA informing her that the drug that she had been taking for 10 years was going to be placed on the list of prohibited substances as of 1 January 2016. For Sharapova then to post a tweet telling the world about reading emails from fans showing their support is ironic at best or shows the complete and total disregard she holds for rules that must only apply to others, not for herself. 

However, this should not be surprising to those of us who have followed Sharapova since that career defining win against Serena in 2004 and the ensuing fawning of her by the media. Some journalists have even turned themselves into her publicists, relating news about Sharapova's injuries and the minutia of her life. What is surprising to me is how much the media and those who considered themselves insiders with the Sharapova camp were completely caught off guard by Monday's press announcement.  One would be forgiven if one sensed a hint of betrayal from reporters who have discovered that they were not in the know. However, that has not stopped them from falling in line when it comes to reporting about this whole doping debacle.  You get the sense that the sooner it is all dealt with, the better the sport can be by doing what it does best, i.e. imitating the behaviour of an ostrich.

Sharapova has repeatedly stated how much this sport means to her.  She and her team have gone to great lengths to tell fans just how much tennis means to her. However, a cursory review of Sharapova’s career shows that she has done little to nothing to advance the sport of tennis.  

For someone who loves the sport so much, she wasted little or no time in throwing not only her colleagues under the bus, but the whole sport of tennis:

Consider for a moment those players who have not only acted as mentors to players from their own countries, whether it is in coaching, mentoring, being practice partners, to going as far as being on the forefront of changes within the sport (see Venus Williams), to sitting on the Players’ Council to effect meaningful change that benefits all players (see Clijsters, Serena, Wozniacki) to being a symbol for women in countries where the advancement of women's rights has been a long, painful and arduous journey (see China (Li Na) and India (Sania Mirza), I have to ask myself, what has Sharapova done to advance the sport of tennis? 

As far as I can see she has done little to grow the sport of tennis in her native Russia or indeed in her adopted country, the USA.  So, I am at pains to figure out just what it is about this sport that she loves so much.  Is it the fact that it affords her a reliable customer base for her candy line, or is it the fact that most, if not all of her sponsors sell high end good which are targeted to the rich folks who presumably frequent Porsche dealerships and TagHauer stores who only drink Evian water and wear Tiffany jewels? 

At the time this writing, the ITF has yet to hand down its decision but already there have been dozens of articles written stating that she should not be severely penalized.  Contrast the following articles which were written when Serena Williams cut her foot after winning Wimbledon in 2010 and when she had a dizzy spell during a doubles match at Wimbledon in 2015.

The NewYork Times stated that she needed to provide an explanation; and 
The DailyMail, never to be left out of anything vaguely akin to journalism had this to say

The above articles are the usual pieces that are written when anything remotely resembling the appearance of doping is attached to Serena Williams.  In the meantime, an athlete who has actually committed a doping violation has barely faced any backlash.  As a matter of fact, fans and journalists alike were pissed beyond belief that NIKE would abandon her in what they think is her time of need.  As more and more details have emerged as to the negligence that attended Sharapova’s decision not to click on the link in her notification emails, HEAD, her racquet sponsor has come out in support of Sharapova, stating that they are giving her the benefit of the doubt.  One wonders what will happen if the ITF/WADA decide to impose a 4 year ban on the grounds that she was grossly negligent in continuing to take a drug, for which she received adequate notice that it was about to be placed on the list of prohibited substances.  If I was a shareholder of HEAD, I would demand that the CEO resign because clearly he is not making decisions that are in the best interest of shareholders.

Today (14 March), Steve Simon, newly appointed head of the Women's Tennis Association has been quoted as stating that Ms. Sharapova made an "honest mistake".  I have written countless times about the inherent conflicts of interest that permeates tennis and I can't for the life of me figure out why the head of the WTA would think that it is his place to comment on an issue that is now outside the purview of the WTA. 

 If it is that he is siding with Ms. Sharapova's team that this was an “honest mistake”, then it stands to reason that the WTA needs to assume part of that blame. In this scenario, the only way an “honest mistake” could have been made is if the information that was being provided was not provided in a manner that is easily accessible.  Ms. Sharapova has indicated that it was difficult for her to obtain the relevant information on meldonium because (1) she did not know the name by which WADA had announced that it was a prohibited substance; (2) she did not click on the link that WADA had sent out in an email on 22 December; (3) she did not receive the 5 notifications; and (4) the WADA site is difficult to navigate.   Perhaps by the end of the day someone will point out the other excuses that have been raised as a result of this "honest mistake".  Frankly, if you look at the list of excuses/reasons, one can be forgiven for thinking that even if Ms. Sharapova had clicked on the link(s) she would not have been able to figure out that the drug she had been taking for 10 years went by another name, and we would have been in this same position once again.

Mr. Simon, you have only just assumed the head of the WTA.  There are more pressing issues on the women's Tour at this time (time to go make peace with tournament officials in Dubai and Doha for one). Surely, taking up the mantle for someone who has the money and the connections to defend herself is outside your purview and by extension outside the purview of the WTA?  This is even worse than the talking points that the Tour has issued to players regarding this incident.

There have been strenuous requests by persons associated with Ms. Sharapova as well as members of the press who have asked that we should wait until all the facts are known before casting judgment.  However, it is quite hard for us tennis fans and those of us who truly love this sport to think that both Mr. Simon and the Chief Executive Officer of HEAD are both privy to information unknown to the rest of us which makes them take the position that this doping offence by Ms. Sharapova is an honest mistake.  If that is the case then there is no need for us to have a hearing and we can just continue merrily on our way 
As the days pass and we learn more and more about mildronate (meldonium), some players are speaking out and speaking out in a voice that will not be silenced. Andy Murray, so called champion of feminist causes had this to say about the issue.

"If you take a prescription drug[s] that you don't need but just because it is legal is wrong. You are just doing it for the performance-enhancing benefits," [emphasis mine]

Kiki Mladenovic, a French player also had some strong views on the whole situation. Her response to questions posed to her by what I presume is a French journalist (Yellow Ball Corner) are printed below in its entirety (via YellowBallCorner)

"What's your reaction concerning Maria Sharapova failed drug test?

 She doesn't even deserve any comment... As far as I'm concerned if I take a doliprane I think ten times about it before, so thinking she took a serious drug for ten years and hearing some saying she's not even sick... She has played with the rules, saying : it's not on the list so I'm gonna take it. It's disappointing and I don't like this mentality of trying to be the best by playing with the rules. That's low. She can play with the words, get good lawyers but in the principle she's totally wrong and all the players think the same thing, even the top players. And anyway many are not that surprised, due to her daily attitude : she wasn't liked.

Are you now doubting all your rivals? 

No, cause that's the big positive news inside all this drama: it proves the anti doping program is extremely efficient and that even the best players, if it doesn't go as it should it gets out.

Would you be shocked if she wasn't receiving a heaving sanction?

That's obvious she must be punished. That's very serious, and it's lasting since ten years: who does she think we are ! When you see the efforts we do to improve our endurance, our recovery, to deal with our emotions and the stress. When you're stronger physically, you're also stronger mentally. So here you wonder if the girl has done those efforts, and if she did she hasn't suffered like us, she did it easily. So you start to think she's not a champion : she cheated. Even if it wasn't forbidden before : it's the principle. Of course you doubt and you think that she hasn't deserved all that she won and did. It's dreadful, but it's good that it's finally out. I respected her for her career, but not for the person that she is because she wasn't polite nor nice, let's be honest. So with what's happening now, there won't remain a lot of people to like her... I'm a bit harsh... But we all think and say here that she's a cheater. She has no excuse, no defense. For me the debate is close and there's no doubt." 

 During her press conference, Sharapova was at pains to let us know that for the 10 years that she has been taking this medicine (note the use of the word medicine and not drug) it was perfectly legal to do so.  While that is indeed the case, the fact of the matter is that the various illnesses for which Sharapova was being treated could have been treated with other drugs. Frankly speaking, if I am taking a drug for 10 years and the symptoms of my disease keeps coming back then I am definitely going to get a second or third opinion. 

But enough of whether Sharapova knew or did not know that her medicine had been placed on WADA's list of prohibited substances, let us look at what has happened since Monday's announcement.  

The media blitz by the Sharapova team continues merrily along with a Facebook posting by Ms. Sharapova to her fans attempting to set the record straight regarding the number of notifications that she received regarding meldonium.  Frankly, it doesn't even matter how many notices she received.  The fact remains that as of 1 January 2016 she was in violation of the doping rules and therefore she needs to face the consequences of this.  In her message to fans, Ms. Sharapova took the opportunity to castigate her colleagues and the sport itself by stating that unlike others, she did not cite an injury as the reason behind a doping violation.  She is, therefore, to be commended for her honesty and bravery. 

 On the eve of Ms. Sharapova's letter to her fans, a former French minister for Sports (Mlle Bachelot) came out and implied that Rafael Nadal had been hit with a doping violation in 2012 and that his knee injury was fake.  Of course, tennis fans, not averse to playing connect the dots are of the view that Ms. Sharapova's comment about not citing an injury for a doping violation was a dig at Nadal. 

It is time for us to let the ITF and WADA do its job.  It is either the case that tennis needs to continue to play ostrich with anti doping or we just decide that it is going to be a free for all and everyone can do whatever it is that they like.  As a long time fan of the sport, I am appalled at the comments from people who should know better.  It would seem as if tennis fans prefer their sport to remain the way it is, surrounded by rumours and inneundo.  God forbid that anyone should try and uncover the darkness within.  If anyone does, we will no doubt become like cycling where we deny and deny and deny until the evidence stares us in the face and we can deny no more. 

Next week we will look at the views expressed by various tennis players regarding anti-doping efforts.  Let us just say that the Spin Team is disappointed.