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.