Women's tennis 'riddled with drugs'
By KATRINA BEIKOFF
WOMEN'S tennis is riddled with performance enhancing drugs and tennis officials are protecting their superstars by refusing to acknowledge there is a problem, Australia's chief anti-doping officer claimed yesterday.
The explosive comments, just days after the Wimbledon finals, come as figures show the claims of mass testing of tennis players are deceiving.
Fewer than 50 tests were carried out on international female tennis players in the past year – and none were surprise no-notice screens.
Australian Sports Drug Agency chief John Mendoza said women's tennis was potentially as drug tainted as the Chinese female swimmers who caused a sensation in the early 1990s.
"Only someone in denial would think women's tennis is clean," Mendoza said.
"The physiques are bizarre, like the Chinese swimmers were. What we saw in swimming with the Chinese is akin to what we're seeing in tennis. You do not become like that by working out in the gym."
Mendoza did not accuse any specific players but said tennis – both men's and women's – faced a potential drug problem as significant as cycling before the sport began a systematic testing regime to clean up the doping culture after 1997.
"What happened with both of those sports (swimming and cycling) was that they refused to implement an effective out-of-competition testing program," he said.
"FINA was forced to move and has got on top of the problem while cycling is getting there but still needs to improve."
Cycling's premier road event, the Tour de France, was rocked by one of the biggest doping scandals ever in 1998 with the entire Festina team thrown off the Tour, some of its riders banned and its director and a medical team member copping suspended jail sentences.
Italy's best three riders, Marco Pantani, Stefano Garzelli and Gilberto Simoni, have since been banned from cycling in subsequent doping scandals.
There have been 10 Chinese swimmers, including Yuan Yuan who was caught before the 1998 World Championships in Perth and banned for four years for trafficking human growth hormone, and one Chinese swim coach banned for doping offences since 1993.
International Tennis Federation (ITF) executive director Debbie Jevans said 700 tennis players were tested last year, with top male players tested on average seven times.
ITF spends $1 million on drug tests each year with 8000 tests carried out for just seven positives over the past seven years when anti-doping screens were first introduced to the sport, Jevans said.
The ITF also announced at Wimbledon they were likely to introduce blood screening for the endurance-boosting drug EPO before the Australian Open in January.
But last year only 50 of the 700 tests were out-of-competition screens, and none of those 50 were on female tennis players.
Mendoza said the large numbers of tests did not prove doping was not rife.
Tests would not stop doping if the screens were done during competition or by giving the athlete plenty of warning.
"Tennis is being dominated by a group of women who are not what they appear to be. They are not real," he said.
"The signs of substance abuse among leading players are self evident. The dynamics of the game have changed. Tennis officials are refusing to accept they have a problem."