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.  

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