July 24, 2024

A system designed to uncover cheats in tennis has come under sharpened scrutiny in the wake of former Wimbledon champion Simona Halep being banned for a doping offence.

British doubles player Tara Moore losing two years of her career has also raised questions. She has recently returned after contaminated meat was deemed the source of her failed test.

Those at the heart of the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) – the independent body set up by the sport’s governing bodies to fulfil a mission of providing ‘tennis you can trust’ – insist it still serves its purpose.

“Nobody wants to nail tennis players or ruin their careers without reason. But we follow the evidence and independent expertise to reach a conclusion,” an ITIA source told BBC Sport.

Others who have seen their careers derailed, by what some perceive as convoluted and unfair processes, are not convinced.
“For them, it is a procedure. It has one job – to give us the biggest punishment possible according to the accusation,” said former world number 75 Kamil Majchrzak, who was banned for 13 months after failing a doping test in 2022.
“But it is our life which is on the edge – not theirs.”

Are players being disproportionately damaged?
Two-time major champion Halep has always maintained her innocence and regularly criticised the ITIA’s process while her case was ongoing, describing it as an “ordeal”.

Her former coach Darren Cahill accused the ITIA of making “false accusations and false narratives”, demanding a “full review” into how it operates.

ITIA chief executive Karen Moorhouse acknowledges former world number one Halep’s case “raised some fair and important questions”. But the agency rejects Cahill’s call and says it is doing everything by the book.

The ITIA applies the rules set out by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and could be investigated if it is deemed to be not enforcing them correctly.

Like Halep, Majchrzak failed a test in 2022 and maintained his innocence. He says the case has caused significant “trauma”.

The 28-year-old had played regularly at the four Grand Slams, represented Poland at the 2020 Olympics and reached a career-high ranking when he was told a urine test showed traces of an anabolic steroid.

Majchrzak argued a herbal nutritional drink was contaminated. The ITIA’s testing of several unopened sachets of the supplement confirmed they explained the adverse findings in his test.

Having already been provisionally banned for seven months, he decided not to continue challenging the 13-month suspension handed out. He was able to start playing again in January.

“I really put a lot of effort into work with my psychologist, coaches, wife and family to get through the worst period when I didn’t really have the best life,” he told BBC Sport.

“My life was pointless and without a goal. My whole life had been about tennis. Suddenly I didn’t know if I was going to play again. It was devastating.”

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