Wimbledon tennis champion Andy Murray says that tennis needs to adopt a near “zero tolerance” approach to doping after criticising two fellow players banned in connection with doping offences as “unprofessional.” His comments come in a week in which Mark Cavendish attacks tennis in his new book as lagging behind cycling in tackling the problem of doping.
Murray was talking about the cases of Serbia’s Viktor Troicki, who this week had an 18-month ban for failing to provide a blood sample reduced to 12 months after appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the Croatian player Marin Cilic, banned for nine months after testing positive in April for the banned supplement, nikethamide. CAS subsequently reduced his suspension to four months.
Cilic blamed his positive test on glucose tablets his mother had bought him at a pharmacy in Monte Carlo, where he was competing in a tournament.
Troicki claimed that he was unable to provide a blood sample when requested because he was feeling unwell, and maintained that the doping control officer said he would be able to provide it the following day – something the official concerned has denied.
However, CAS gave the tennis player, who provided a sample the following day that tested negative, the benefit of the doubt, saying there was no “significant fault” on his part.
In its judgment, CAS said that the doping control officer “should have informed the player in clearer terms of the risks caused by his refusal to undergo a blood test’"
Speakijng to BBC Sport, Murray said: “Whether either player was intentionally cheating or not – we don't know that, and I don't think either of them are like that – but both of them were unprofessional.
"I personally would never go and buy something over the counter in a pharmacy – it's just unprofessional.”
Under the World Anti-Doping Code (WADC), athletes are entirely responsible for any prohibited substances that might be found in blood or urine samples taken from them, although in some circumstances they are afforded a defence if it is found that they ingested it innocently.
"I think 10 or 15 years ago, when people didn't think drug taking happened in sport, people might have thought 'yeah, we can just buy stuff over the counter in any old pharmacy',” Murray went on.
“But we can't do that and you have to accept that."
However, Troicki’s lifelong friend and fellow Serb, world No. 2 Novak Djokovic, believe he was hard done by and that the anti-doping regime places undue pressure on athletes.
“It's just not bad news for him," he insisted. “It makes me nervous as a player to do any kind of test,” he continued.
"I don't know if tomorrow the representative, the DCOs [doping control officers], who are representatives of Wada there at the tournaments, because of their unprofessionalism, because of their negligence, because of their inability to explain the rules in a proper way, I don't know if they're going to misplace the test that I have or anything worse than that."
He also expressed concerns over the Cilic case, asking, “So what happened? Who is going to be responsible for that? Whose duty is it going to be that he lost four or five months of points, money, everything?
"That is his job, that is his life. Who is going to be answering for that?
"Now in Viktor's case, he's going to be sanctioned until July next year, and this lady, the DCO, the representative that was there that day, she's going to come back tomorrow for the job. Nobody is going to answer for that, only him. Why?"
Djokovic also hit out at the Association of Tennis Professionals for the lack of support he believes it gave Troicki.
"The ATP, which is supposed to be an association of players of tennis professionals, which is supposed to be the governing body, the association that stands behind the players, is not going to answer on this announcement," he maintained.
"It is not going to do anything for Viktor, so Viktor is there by himself. Tomorrow it can be anybody else."
World number one Rafael Nadal – no stranger to insinuations of doping himself – was more tight-lipped than Djokovic on the issue, saying: "I prefer to not talk about these things, but at the end we have rules. We can like or not bad rules, but we have rules.
"I am very sorry for Viktor because I believe 100% on him. Probably the doctor, you know, make the mistake. But he knows that he has to pass the doping."
In his autobiography At Speed, published earlier this week, former world champion cyclist Mark Cavendish singled out tennis as a sport that had failed to tackle the issue of doping to the same extent that cycling has, with his thoughts on the issue outlined in an extract published on Telegraph.co.uk.
“My other persistent frustration is the discrepancy between our sport and others,” he revealed. “Take tennis. Five years after the UCI, the International Tennis Federation finally got its biological passport up and running in 2013. In 2011 a grand total of 21 out-of competition blood tests were carried out in tennis, as against the 4,613 in cycling.
“You consider this, then you hear Andre Agassi saying that ‘tennis has always led the way in anti-doping’ or Marion Bartoli insisting that ‘doping doesn’t exist in tennis.’ I don’t want to pick on one sport in the way that others have singled out cycling, but how can she be so confident when, over more than a decade, Lance [Armstrong] alone sailed through hundreds of tests?
“The problem with statements like Agassi’s and Bartoli’s is that they perpetuate the narrative that the public has been hearing for years – that cycling is riddled with doping and other sports are clean,” he went on.
The UCI introduced a No Needle Policy in May 2011 under which team doctors are not allowed to give cyclists in their charge an injection, even for products permitted under the WADC such as those helping recovery, unless there is a clear medical reason for doing so. The rules were drawn up in partnership with world rowing’s governing body, FISA.
Giving his take on the initiative, Cavendish explained: “There was a feeling in cycling that a ‘needle culture’ had been allowed to develop over several decades and anecdotal evidence suggested that legal injections were often a precursor to more serious stuff.
“Again, I’m loath to pick on tennis, but the discrepancy was brought home to me again when I heard Tim Henman matter-of-factly answering a question about players recovering after five-set matches and explaining that they would just use an intravenous drip. Perfectly fine, perfectly legal in that sport, but strictly forbidden for us.”
“Even so, I welcome the needle ban: anything to ensure that the doping plague that had taken a grip of cycling doesn’t return; and anything to hopefully make people realise that we’re light years ahead of other sports in the war on drugs,” he added.
Murray believes that his sport is getting tougher on drugs cheats, however.
In 2008, the UCI became the first international sporting governing body to subject its athletes to a biological passport regime. Tennis implemented a similar programme in July this year.
“A few years ago a lot of players were almost naive in thinking that stuff just doesn't go on in tennis, or in sport," said the 26-year-old Scot.
"But you've seen over the last few years that it's become such a huge story across everything with athletes and cycling.
"Obviously tennis has had a few problems as well, so to get the trust back from the public and from everyone we need to show that we are doing the right things, and when people break the rules that they are punished and that they don't get off."
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.