Abuse of performance-enhancing drugs and other forms of doping in sports like baseball and cycling have tainted records and left some of both sports' most celebrated stars in disgrace. Tennis has so far been fortunate to avoid the kind of doping scandals that have plagued other marquee sports, but as a tennis fan, last week's suspension of former top-ten player Marin Cilic has got me a little bit nervous.
According to reports from the Associated Press, "Cilic tested positive for nikethamide, a stimulant, at a tournament in Munich last spring. The ITF said it accepted the player’s contention that he ingested the substance inadvertently in glucose tablets and was not trying to cheat." After reading the full ITF decision—which can be viewed here for anyone interested—I'd tend to agree (though no one asked me for my opinion).
In any case, I'm certainly not interested in passing judgment or condemning anyone, nor am I interested in adding fuel to the rumors and accusations about other players who may be benefiting from doping. What I am concerned about, is the lack of transparency associated with the ITF's anti-doping program. A report from Reuters indicates that after accepting the suspension, Cilic withdrew from Wimbledon, citing a knee injury in order to avoid too much negative publicity. The report goes on to paraphrase an ITF spokesman who stated that "Cilic had been within his rights to cite an injury for his withdrawal from Wimbledon and that, under its own anti-doping rules, the ITF were not allowed to make the real reason public at the time."
I'm all for due process and all that, but when players can simply beg off with phantom injuries, things start to sound a little fishy. It's naïve to think that there aren't some players deliberately cheating and doping, but "silent suspensions" just make it look like there's a huge cover-up going on. Plus, it can cause people to look suspiciously at players with valid injuries who aren't doping. If every player who gets busted doping feigns an injury, then how will we know which "injured" players are simply under suspension?
I'm not an expert on doping or prevention, so I'm not going to even offer an opinion about whether the ITF's program is strict enough or not. Besides, I think the fact that top players have repeatedly called for more testing is more telling than any opinion I might offer. In any case, I hope for the sake of the sport that the stewards of the game are doing things right and working to keep the game clean. An asterisk is that last thing I want to see next time I visit the Tennis Hall of Fame.