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Rusedski Is Cleared of Doping Offense

Independent tribunal rules that the ATP may have caused the positive test of the British player.

March 11, 2004|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

With an 11-paragraph ruling, the metaphorical weight was lifted off Greg Rusedski's shoulders late Tuesday night and found a new home -- the ATP, landing with a resounding thud.

The seismic shift came when an independent anti-doping tribunal cleared the British player and former U.S. Open finalist of a doping offense, criticizing the ATP, which runs men's tennis. Rusedski had tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone in July, leading to months of personal limbo and, finally, a hearing more than a month ago in Montreal.

A negative verdict -- resulting in a two-year suspension, at worst -- effectively would have ended his playing career.

"The verdict was clear and unequivocal," Rusedski said in a statement from London on Wednesday. "This is a tremendous relief to me."

The tribunal ruled that it would be unfair to allow the action to proceed because the ATP may have caused the positive test.

Seven other players, six who were not identified and Bohdan Ulihrach of the Czech Republic, were cleared of doping offenses last summer when it could not be ruled out that ATP trainers may have given them electrolyte tablets contaminated by the prohibited substances. That theory has not been proved.

The three-member tribunal took the ATP to task in its ruling in Rusedski's favor: "The ATP could have -- and should have -- taken steps to notify its players in a 'meaningful' and 'direct' way of the reasons for its decision to cease distributing the electrolyte tablets that it had previously handed out so freely.

"In these circumstances, the tribunal held that the ATP could not in fairness proceed with this case as, 'it created the underlying situation in the first place,' by distributing tablets that, on the best available scientific evidence appeared to have been contaminated by prohibited substances."

The ATP accepted the ruling and said it would expand the investigation into the nandrolone controversy, adding two more drug experts to the probe. But there was an astonishing bit of information in the ATP's statement from its chief executive officer, Mark Miles, suggesting the safeguards it deployed last summer were not entirely effective.

Miles said that there have been 16 low-level trace readings of nandrolone or its precursors -- not positive tests -- in recent testing at tournaments in 2004.

That had Tim Henman shaking his head in disbelief when he was told the news by British reporters Wednesday morning at Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Former Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia was more blunt in his comments, saying the situation had turned into "a bit of a joke now." He was asked if he had faith in the ATP's anti-doping program.

"Not a lot at the moment," Hewitt said. "Cases keep coming up. I can't say why this is happening week in and week out. I think it is tough for a lot of the players. What do they take? It's probably worrying a lot of players out there that you could be innocent and you test positive and you know you're totally innocent.

"That cannot only ruin your career, but your whole reputation before that is more important. Obviously Rusedski was just in that situation."

Even those not locked in a contentious relationship with the ATP -- as Hewitt has been -- were critical of the process. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) took issue with the decision of the tribunal and its premise that the positive tests were because of the contaminated electrolyte tablets.

"This decision only exacerbates WADA's concerns regarding the initial decision taken by the tribunals in the seven previous cases," the organization said in a statement issued from its office in Montreal.

"As we have stated in the past, the decision to exonerate was based on a scientific theory regarding the electrolytes and is not conclusive. The fact that another case has now been adjudicated based on the same premise is greatly disturbing, particularly if it is proven to be incorrect."

WADA is scheduled to issue a report on Ulihrach and the six others. Though the report was expected shortly, it could take a little longer because the International Tennis Federation (ITF) asked that the Rusedski case be included. The ITF said in a statement that it "regrets the climate that currently exists in our sport with regard to the use of supplements."

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