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?