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Drug Controversy Earns a Predictable Response

March 02, 2004|LISA DILLMAN

Name one sure-fire way to quell dissent, blunt the edge of a growing controversy and score some highly valued public relations points. OK, how about two?

1) Form a panel.

2) Hold a summit.

The ATP, which runs men's tennis, is checking off option No. 1, announcing on Monday that it has established an ATP Task Force on Supplements and will hold the first meeting later this month in Miami.

This group, led by the former chief executive of the drug company SmithKline Beecham, consists of medical experts and a handful of top players, including eight-time Grand Slam singles champion Andre Agassi, Tim Henman of Britain, 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa of Spain and Dominik Hrbaty of Slovakia.

The White House appears to be opting for the latter, trying to organize a summit on steroids involving major sports organizations, according to a Washington Post report. This comes as a byproduct of President Bush's State of the Union address, in which he spoke about steroids.

These things are predictable. It was fairly clear the White House would revisit the issue in some form or another after Bush mentioned steroids in one of the most important speeches of the year.

The ATP is almost as predictable. Lately, it has been criticized in some quarters as being more reactive than proactive in times of crisis. Certainly, it's a valid opinion in relation to the on-going drug controversy dominating the sport.

Henman told reporters Monday at the tournament in Dubai that forming such a group was discussed in Melbourne at the players' meeting at the Australian Open. There, the players expressed various degrees of uncertainty about what they could and could not take as far as supplements.

Agassi was one of them. Since then, his rhetoric grew more heated and during the San Jose tournament last month, he blasted the ATP in no uncertain terms, saying the players were "left out on their own," and that they were not receiving satisfactory answers from the organization.

He was joined by Andy Roddick, who reiterated some of Agassi's complaints. The third verbal shot also came last month from Alex Corretja of Spain, who was playing in Rotterdam. Corretja, a former member of the ATP Player Council, mentioned the possibility of joining a player boycott if Greg Rusedski of Britain ended up receiving a suspension for testing positive for the steroid nandrolone.

Rusedski appeared before an anti-doping tribunal in Montreal three weeks ago and is waiting for a verdict from the three-member panel. It is expected to come soon. He has argued that his case should be pulled under the same umbrella as the seven other players who tested positive for nandrolone, contending that his sample had the same analytical fingerprints.

The others -- Bohdan Ulihrach of the Czech Republic and the Secret Six -- were all cleared in July when the ATP said it could not rule out that its trainers may have provided the contaminated supplements. But since then, it still has not been proven that the tainted supplements, supplied by the trainers, were the source of the positive drug tests.

"The problem the task force will address is very important, especially to ATP players," said Mark Miles, the organization's chief executive officer. "On one hand, it is clear that dietary and nutritional supplements pose real risks of testing positive under anti-doping rules. On the other hand, elite athletes have special dietary and nutritional needs and are often advised to take vitamins, minerals and supplements to prevent heat exhaustion, cramping and other ailments."

Kim's World

Kim Clijsters, who became engaged to Australian star Lleyton Hewitt in December, is getting used to winning titles on the same day as her future husband. They did it last year at Indian Wells -- he beat Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil and she beat Lindsay Davenport -- and the couple managed the feat again last month in different cities.

Clijsters had little trouble, defeating Siliva Farina Elia of Italy, 6-3, 6-0, to win the title in Antwerp, Belgium, and not far away, Hewitt beat Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain in the Rotterdam final on Feb. 22.

Hewitt and Clijsters will be attempting to defend their titles at Indian Wells, which starts next week. She said they could be married by the end of the year and has hinted that she may quit tennis in the next couple of years to start a family. Then again, she is only 20 and does not turn 21 until June.

"It's something that I really look forward to as well," she said of having children. "I have a very young mom as well and I think that's something that I would like to be as well. I'm not going to say that I may quit completely.

"Who knows? I may try to come back. I don't know. Look at Sandrine Testud. She was saying, 'Oh, I'll never come back. I will have my kids and I'll stay home and be a housewife.' And it's only been a year and she's back already."

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