More minor doping suspensions

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The International Tennis Federation is still swimming with the guppies as far as catching drug cheats.

An appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a two-year suspension assessed to unknown 17-year-old Kazakh player Arsan Arashov, who tested positive for meldonium in June 2016.

Last week, the ITF imposed a provisional suspension on American Spencer Furman, who tested positive for D-amphetamine at the Challenger in Cary, NC in September.

It was the only pro match Furman, 20, had played all season.

He’s a sophomore at Duke University, and has no ranking.

Adrian Barbu gets provisional suspension

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Who is Adrian Barbu, you ask?

Well, he’s a 34-year-old Romanian currently ranked No. 505 in doubles.

His career high of No. 265 came all the way back in 2005. He has no singles ranking; his best of No. 752 also came back in 2005.

And the ITF has announced that he has received a provisional suspension for a positive doping test.

It’s for the serious stuff: nandrolone metabolite (19-norandrosterone) and methenolone (metenolone) metabolites. 

It’s been about a year since the ITF began announcing provisional suspensions, to combat the perception that some players were serving so-called “silent bans”.

They apply only to mandatory provisional suspensions, and those that are accepted voluntarily.

Per the ITF, Barbu chose not to exercise his right to appeal the provisional suspension. As little prize money as he has earned in 2017 (about $3,500 US), hiring a lawyer seems impractical.

The suspension went into effect Oct. 22, pending a full hearing which likely would determine the length of the official suspension.

Challenger level led to dope testing

Barbu’s positive sample came on Aug. 16, 2017, at the Challenger in Meerbusch, Germany.

At that tournament, he was given a solid by his much higher-ranked countryman Florin Mergea, as they got direct entry into the draw.

They lost in the first round.

Mergea is ranked in the top 50 on the ATP Tour in doubles, and was in the top 10 just two years ago.

He also partnered his countryman for a series of four Futures events in Romania over the summer. They won two and reached another final, which allowed Barbu to raise his ranking from outside the top 800.

Barbu would have to forfeit about $1,200 in earnings and, more importantly, 28 precious ATP Tour ranking points. That would drop him out of the top 600, assuming it’s an issue on the back end of the potential suspension.

The announcement continues the ITF’s trend of catching only guppies in the professional tennis pond. But it does offer a window into where the players are being tested.

Barbu played 10 Futures events between May and early August. And nothing positive came up, assuming there was even any drug testing going on. But in his first tournament at the Challenger level, the Romanian got dinged.

He had basically been retired for more than a decade. Between July, 2006 and this past May, Barbu had played just one Futures event – all the way back in 2011.

Marino comeback delayed indefinitely

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SAGUENAY, Québec – Canadian Rebecca Marino was all ready to start the second chapter of her tennis career.

She traveled to Montreal from her home in Vancouver, practiced for a few days, and made the five-hour drive to Saguenay Friday.

The plan was to arrive at the $60,000 ITF Pro Circuit tournament there before the 6 p.m. deadline to sign in for the qualifying and prepare for a first-round match on Saturday.

But the 26-year-old forgot one detail.

It was a crucial, significant detail.

Marino never told the International Tennis Federation, the Canadian anti-doping program and Tennis Canada that she was coming back to play. In fact, she didn’t notify them at all.

And that means Marino can’t play – for at least six months.

Retiring easier than un-retiring

The official retirement form is filed with the WTA. It’s a simple form – eight lines including name, last tournament played, official retirement date, e-mail and so on.

The retirement then is on-passed to the ITF, which runs the anti-doping program. And then the player is placed on the federation’s retirement list.

It’s not mandatory. But by not making it official, players subject themselves to all of the restrictions and rules – and tests – of the anti-doping program.

Marino was added to the list, effective Feb. 20, 2013.  

Marino

If a player wants to “un-retire”, they have to reverse the process. And that includes alerting all of the proper authorities.

Marino
The ITF spells out the criteria for a player returning from retirement. And there needs to be six months of active duty in the anti-doping program.

The reinstatement form isn’t that much more complex than the retirement form.

Marino
The rules for reinstatement are fairly clearly spelled out.

Marino can appeal it. But the only stated reason for waiving the six-month period is “where the strict application of that requirement would be manifestly unfair to a Player,” per the ITF rules.

It doesn’t spell out what it considers “manifestly unfair”. But in other areas, such as provisional doping suspensions, it indicates that such exceptions are rare.

No exceptions – not even a former No. 1

The reasons for that pre-return testing period are obvious, and so need not be stated here.

It’s a rule that got retired American player Andy Roddick a few years ago, when he wanted to play doubles with his great friend Mardy Fish to help him say goodbye to pro tennis at the US Open.

As it happens, Roddick officially retired four days before Marino did, on Feb. 16, 2013. In his case, a three-month period on the anti-doping program was required, and there wasn’t enough time.

Eventually, Roddick did apply for reinstatement, which became effective July 16, 2015.

Why Marino didn’t know about this or didn’t make sure she completed whatever paperwork was required is a question mark. Tennis Canada would not make her available to answer a few questions, not even on site. 

The Vancouver native only began training again with an eye towards coming back to the game at the beginning of September. Even had she looked into all the details on the very first day she stepped on the court for real, she still would have been more than four months short.

Tennis.Life had contacted both the ITF and the WTA Tour this morning just to ensure that Marino had, indeed, completed the reinstatement process (sometimes you have an intuition …).

But with the WTA Tour having basically shifted operations to Singapore for the Tour finals, no immediate response was forthcoming. As for the ITF, well, it was … Friday afternoon. If either provides additional information, we’ll update the story.

Here’s the ITF’s 2018 Prohibited List

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The International Tennis Federation has released the list of prohibited substances for 2018.

The changes go into effect as of Jan. 1, 2018

Says the ITF:

“All players are responsible for acquainting themselves, and ensuring that each Person from whom they take advice (including medical personnel) is acquainted, with all of the requirements of the Programme, including knowing what constitutes an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under the Programme and what substances and methods are prohibited, and ensuring that anything they ingest or use, as well as any medical treatment they receive, does not give rise to an Anti-Doping Rule Violation.”

Click here to see the full list.

More crucial of course, is the document that lists the changes from the 2017 list to next year’s list.

That’s here.

Here are a few highlights.

Alcohol no longer prohibited

“After careful consideration and extensive consultation, Alcohol was excluded from the Prohibited List. The intent of this change is not to compromise the integrity or safety of any sport where alcohol use is a concern, but rather to endorse a different means of enforcing bans on alcohol use in these sports. The four International Federations (IF) affected by this change have been alerted sufficiently in advance in order to amend their rules and to put in place protocols to test for alcohol use and appropriately sanction athletes who do not abide by the rules of their sport,” the ITF writes.

“Control of the process will allow IF more flexibility in applying rules or thresholds as they see fit. The National Anti-Doping Organizations are no longer obliged to conduct tests but may assist IF and National Federations where appropriate.”

Monitored List changes

Two substances that had been on the list of monitored substances (as meldonium was in 2016) have been removed “because the required information on prevalence was obtained.

Those are Mitragynine and telmisartan (brand name Micardis, typically used to treat high blood pressure).

Two more were added, “to evaluate misuse in sport:  2-ethylsulfanyl-1H-benzimidazole (bemitil) in- and out-of-competition and Hydrocodone in-competition.  

Bemitil (also known as Metaprot and AntiHot) appears to be another of those substances that got on the watch list because of its extensive use by Russian and East European athletes. It was first developed in the 1970s. 

According to this site, its main purpose is “increasing the physical and mental performance in people exposed to stressful conditions, and accelerating the recovery process after physical exertion. That makes it useful for athletes, especially for bodybuilders and runners. What is important is that Bemitil can be taken by healthy individuals.”

It’s available at the “Dr. Doping” site, among many other sites, which probably doesn’t help its case.

As for hydrocodone, an addictive pain killer, it is a nearly exclusively American product. The statistics a few years ago were that Americans consume 99 per cent of the hydrocodone produced. It’s the opioid contained in Vicodin.

For now, that doesn’t mean either of these substances are banned. They are just being monitored.

Removal of Glycerol

In consideration of the information published in scientific articles since 2012 that particularly addresses the ability of glycerol to influence the athlete‘s plasma volume and parameters of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP), the magnitude of glycerol-derived effects is regarded as minimal. Therefore, glycerol has been removed from the Prohibited List.

Changes on the cannabis side

The category Cannabimimetics, e.g. “Spice, JWH-018, JWH-073, HU210” was changed to “synthetic cannabinoids, e.g. Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabimimetics”. The synthetic cannabinoids are one of the main classes of novel psychoactive substances that have constantly emerging new drugs and changing availability. The previous list of examples continues to be prohibited, but are currently used less commonly. “Other cannabimimetics” replaced these examples.

• Cannabidiol is no longer prohibited. Synthetic cannabidiol is not a cannabimimetic; however, cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may also contain varying concentrations of THC, which remains a prohibited substance.

One-year suspension for Dan Evans

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The International Tennis Federation has finally ruled on the length of the suspension for British player Dan Evans.

Evans, 27, will serve a one-year suspension, backdated to April 24, 2017.

A urine sample the British player provided on that date at the Barcelona Open was found to contain cocaine and its metabolite.

Normally, we probably wouldn’t have even heard of this before today, when all of the protocols and the process have been completed. (See the case of Dimitar Kutrovsky below, which took two years to navigate the system)

But Evans got out front of the case, much like Maria Sharapova did when she announced in March, 2016 that she had tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open that year.

Evans was charged with the anti-doping rule violation on June 16. He read out a statement at a nearby hotel during the Queen’s Club tournament on June 22, a few weeks before Wimbledon, in which he admitted he had failed a doping test.

Evans explains

According to the decision, Evans admitted he ingested a small amount of cocaine on April 20, while out of competition. Evans then put the leftover first in his pocket, and then in a pocket of his laundry bag. He got rid of it the next day.

evans
The facts of the case worked in Evans’ favour, downgrading a potential four-year suspension to one year.

Except … In that same laundry bag pocket, he stored some medication that he was legally allowed to take. He took those pills for five days. And on the fifth day, he tested positive for cocaine and its metabolite. 

His expert testified, and the ITF’s expert agreed, that the small amount he tested positive for had to have been taken “no more than 24 hours” before his test, “an  amount inconsistent with knowing ingestion and  consistent instead with inadvertent  contamination.”

In other words, Evans didn’t come up with a positive test because he took cocaine April 20. He tested positive because his legal medication had been stored with the leftover cocaine, and thus contaminated. So, in disposing of the remainder of the cocaine and then taking his pills on that April 24 test day, he ended up with a positive test.

The entire decision is here, if you want to read more.

From four years, to two, to one

The anti-doping rules state that a positive test “shall not be considered intentional “if the Substance is not a Specified Substance and the Player can establish that it was Used Out‐of-Competition in a context unrelated to sport performance.”

Evans could not establish that he bore “no Fault or Negligence”, because the evidence was that he was, well, sloppy. But they did allow that he “bore no Significant Fault or Negligence”, which allowed for a discretionary reduction of the two-year initial period by up to 12 months.

The ITF determined that for several reasons, a 12-month reduction was “within the range of reasonable outcomes”. Those reasons included “the time and expenses saved by reaching an agreed outcome rather than having a disputed hearing,” and Evans’s “prompt admission” of his transgression.

He can return on April 24, 2018. 

Evans forfeits more than $120,000 in prize money and 95 ranking points earned in Barcelona and afterwards,  

Kutrovsky gets two years

In another decision, the ITF imposed a two-year suspension on Bulgarian player Dimitar Kutrovsky.

Evans
(ATP file shot)

It’s a case that ran more to form in terms of procedure, as Kutrovsky’s positive test occurred almost exactly two years ago, at the Tiburon Challenger on Sept. 28, 2015.

Kutrovsky’s sample contained D-methamphetamine, which was on the WADA list as a stimulant.

He was charged November 4, and provisionally spended from Nov. 14, 2015. It was his second violation; Kutrovsky had already served a 15-month ban after testing positive for methylhexaneamine back in 2012.

Since Kutrovsky’s suspension is backdated, he has served nearly all of it. Now 30, he will be eligible to return at midnight on Nov. 13, 2017.

At this point, it seems fairly moot. Kutrovsky, who was a standout collegiate player at the University of Texas and also represented Bulgaria in Davis Cup, announced his retirement in Jan. 2016 – less than two months after he was suspended. Long established in Austin, Texas, he is in his second season as an assistant coach with the University of Texas at San Antonio’s men’s program.

“No Significant Fault or Negligence”

It’s interesting in light of the emphasis put by Maria Sharapova and her representatives relative to her own suspension that in both these cases, the ITF wrote in the decision that the player bore “No Significant Fault or Negligence for the violation.” It puts the exact significance of that terminology into context.

The fruit-flavoured tobacco Kutrovsky smoked was contaminated, costing him two years of his career)

In Kutrovsky’s case, he said the positive test came from smoking shisha (a fruit-flavored tobacco) through water pipes (also known as hookah pipes) at two bars in Sofia, Bulgaria on the night of Sept. 20.

He provided evidence to support his contention that the pipes were contaminated with D‐methamphetamine.

Had it been his first offence, Kutrovsky would have gotten a year’s suspension. Because it was his second, that was increased to two years. He also forfeited about $4,500 in prize money and 37 singles ranking points (and five doubles ranking points).

His best singles ranking of No. 293 came earlier in 2015, in May.

That decision is here, if you want to read more.

Errani suspended 2 months for positive test

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TORONTO – The report first surfaced in Italy, in the Corriere della Sera.

And the International Tennis Federation confirmed later Monday that Sara Errani of Italy, 30, failed a doping test earlier this year.

She will be suspended for a period of two months, backdated to Thursday, Aug. 3. Errani, who continued to play through this – almost every week, in fact – can appeal.

She was in Washington, D.C. last week, losing in the second round. Just a day before the suspension officially took effect, she was around the grounds at the Citi Open. Tennis.Life spotted her in the players’ lounge, playing cards with her team, as if none of this was hanging over her head.

Long hearing with testimony

The hearing, which lasted 8 1/2 hours, took place on July 19 in London. Both Errani’s parents and her brother David appeared to testify. The independent tribunal found that she had committed an anti-doping rule violation under Article 2.1

The substance was reported to be letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor. The concentration was 65 ng/mL

The sample was provided Feb. 16, in an out-of-competition test. She was charged on April 18 and according to the ITF, admitted that she had taken it. She did not have a therapeutic-use exemption for the drug, which is generally used to treat breast cancer in post-menopausal women (neither of which seems to apply to Errani).

This was the first positive doping test of Errani’s career. She has had 23 urine tests since January, 2014, and 21 blood tests since 2012. All were negative.

Banned since 2001

Years ago, WADA found evidence that body builders, in particular, were using it to help build lean muscle mass.

The substance has been banned for men since 2001 and for everyone since 2005. The ITF has found no evidence that it “would enhance the performance of an elite level tennis playe.

Her results from Feb. 16 through June 7 (the date of another test, which was negative) are disqualified, and she forfeits both the prize money and ranking points earned in that period.

That’s a total of 373 points. Errani, whose career-high singles ranking of No. 5 came in 2013, has found her ranking dipping outside the top 100 this season.

With the forfeiture of those ranking points (which comprise nearly 60 per cent of the total points she has on the computer at the moment), it will drop to outside the top 200.

And yes – that’s nearly four months without a doping test, during which time Errani played 10 tournaments. That’s just poor.

Errani retired at the Australian Open with a leg injury and after playing Fed Cup (she lost both her matches), returned to her parents home in Italy from Feb. 11-12 through to Feb. 28. That’s where the out-of-competition test took place.

Mother battling cancer

During the hearing, Errani’s attorney posited that the Errani “more likely than not”, the player ingested the banned substance by accidentally consuming the anti-cancer medication taken by her mother, a product called “Femara”. 

Fulvia Errani has been battling cancer since 2005, and has had two surgeries and two relapses, the most recent in 2012. Mrs. Errani has been taking Femara (the commercial name for letrozole) since 2012.

Errani doesn’t live with her parents; she is usually in Spain (her coach is Spanish), the U.S., or on the road. She did move back to Italy on a permanent basis last November.

The testimony was that Mrs. Errani keeps the medication on a worktop space in her kitchen, so she wouldn’t forget to take it. She was making tortellini broth on the day in question – Feb. 14 or 15 – and testified as to how in the past, she has accidentally dropped pills onto the counter or the floor in the kitchen.

She testified that on occasion, she had accidentally pushed two pills out of the dispenser rather than one, and created an obvious risk of contamination by having the medication so close to the food she was preparing.

Mrs. Errani said she didn’t tell her daughter she was still taking the medication.

Among the medicines Errani said she was taking were homeopathic products to treat a case of mononucleosis. Those were tested, and none came up positive for the letrozole.

The testimony of Dr. Christiane Ayotte from the Montreal WADA lab was that it wasn’t possible to determine from the level of concentration of the product whether it was indicative of “deliberate use”. She couldn’t conclude for certain that the testimony of Errani’s mother was not credible.

Light degree of fault

The tribunal ruled that the evidence provided by Errani passed the “threshold” test for inadvertent ingestion – but only just.

Here’s the entire report on the hearing. It doesn’t appear as though Errani’s lawyers quite grasped what the criteria were in terms of the defense of this case, to get the lightest suspension possible. They seemed to use the “throw everything up on the wall and see what sticks” defence, while the ITF clearly states that a specific theory about how the substance got into a player’s system must be laid out.

The “no fault or negligence” plea was rejected on the basis that Mrs. Errani’s medication was in close proximity to the food preparation area and even though Errani might not have known what it was, she should have “identified and addressed” the issue herself. In blaming the mother, the fact that Mrs. Errani is a pharmacist and “should have realized the dangers involved”, made that a non-starter.

The tribunal did accept the threshold of “no significant fault.” Within that, there are three levels, the least significant of them being “Light degree of fault”. That carries a suspension of zero to eight months, with a standard ban four months.

Errani’s unblemished doping test record, and her evidence that she had been meticulous in complying with the anti-doing program, led the tribunal to assess that her degree of fault was at the lowest end of the scale – i.e., two months.

Brit Evans announces positive cocaine test (updated)

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When Dan Evans, the No. 50 player on the ATP Tour and the No. 3 Brit behind Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund, announced a press conference for Friday afternoon, the first thought was that he was pulling out of Wimbledon.

That’s not normally grist for a full press conference. But a week before the big event, in London, it made sense. He had already pulled out of Queen’s Club this week and next week’s tournament in Eastbourne, allegedly due to injury.

But Evans had far bigger news to announce. 

He was found positive for cocaine during an anti-doping test back in April, at the Barcelona ATP Tour event.

He read from a statement at the Novotel Hammersmith, a hotel near where the Queen’s Club tournament is going on this week (via the Daily Mail)

‘This is a very difficult day for me and I wanted to come here in person and tell you face-to-face I was notified a few days ago that I failed a drugs test in April, where I tested positive for cocaine.

“It is really important that you know this was taken out of competition and the context completely unrelated to tennis. I made a mistake and I must face up to it. And I do not condone for one second to anyone that this was acceptable behaviour. I have let a lot of people down – my family, my coach, my team, sponsors, British tennis and my fans.

“I can only deeply apologize from the bottom of my heart. It is a sad and humbling experience. I hope you understand I will not be taking any questions and I thank you for your support of my career to date.”

Here is the statement from the ITF:

Evans

So Evans is only suspended as of Monday – which may well have been when the ITF planned to announce it. But, like Maria Sharapova before him, the Brit decided to get ahead of the curve and announce it himself.

Evans is only the second well-known player to test positive for cocaine and get the book thrown at him. He follows in the infamous tracks of Martina Hingis, the former No. 1 who, a year into a comeback as a singles player in 2007, also announced a positive test for a small amount of the illegal substance. The test occurred, as it happened, during Wimbledon. She was issued a two-year ban.

That seems to be the standard time frame. So it’s likely what Evans is looking at.

France’s Richard Gasquet failed a test for cocaine in 2009. But he was able to convince the independent tribunal of the “unique circumstances” (it’s a good story) and ended up being suspended just 2 1/2 months.

Hingis insisted she was innocent.

“I have tested positive but I have never taken drugs and I feel 100 per cent innocent. The reason I have come out with this is because I do not want to have a fight with anti-doping authorities,” she said at the time. “Because of my age and my health problems I have also decided to retire from professional tennis. … I have no desire to spend the next seven years fighting doping officials. I’m frustrated and angry. Accusations such as these don’t provide me with the motivation to continue.”

Hingis, of course, returned and later became No. 1 in doubles.

Evans did not deny it. And he does have some history

Early patterns changed – until …

Nearly a decade ago, he and fellow Brit Daniel Smethurst were caught out partying at a club at 3 a.m., the night (morning?) before their junior doubles match at Wimbledon. The censure wasn’t all that serious – a four-month suspension of his funding from the British Lawn Tennis Association. Although that was a record. It probably wasn’t the smartest move to hang at a club in the centre of Wimbledon village – where the population of tennis people swells to gigantic proportions during the Championships, and where he was sure to be seen by someone.

Then again, Evans made plenty of bonehead moves in his youth. But after years of seeming not to take his tennis seriously enough, he has come on and reached a career best singles ranking of No. 41 back in March.

The 27-year-old reached the fourth round at the Australian Open after reaching the final of the Sydney tuneup event the week before. Since then, he has won more than one match at an ATP Tour-level event only once.

Ironically, that came in Barcelona, where he failed the doping test.

ITF to step up anti-doping measures

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It’s a complete coincidence that the week new anti-doping measures are announced is the same week Maria Sharapova returns from a 15-month doping ban, right?

The International Tennis Federation announced Friday that as of May 1, it will step up its drug-testing program on every level.

The budget will be increased some 50 per cent, to approximately $4.5 million US plus administrative costs. The volume of testing will increase and, perhaps more crucially, the sample storage policy will be strengthened.

The ITF reported 4,899 samples were tested in 2016. That will rise to “up to” 8,000 samples in 2017. Their plan is to collect more – more urine and blood samples, more out-of-competition samples, and to test at more events.

The federation will increase the number of players in the International Registered Testing Pool to approximately 250. And it will increase the number of samples placed into long-term storage. The preservation of those samples allows for re-testing at a later date, as detection methods become more sophisticated or are developed to better detect certain types of banned substances.

We’ve seen the effect of that that in recent months. Anti-doping authorities are only now catching athletes who didn’t complete clean in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and the 2012 Games in London.

The ITF says stored samples from top-ranked players will be increased “up to 50 percent”.

Precise information still lacking

The information is still somewhat limited, the numbers vague. The ITF doesn’t indicate in the press release how many players already were in the testing pool before this planned increase. Nor does it indicate how many samples are currently stored, nor a precise definition of “top-ranked” players.

As a basis for comparison, the international cycling federation (UCI) regularly updates a comprehensive list of cyclists included in the registered testing pool on its website, sorted by country. The latest list (updated Friday) has the total number of registered cyclists at 1,142, from 60 different countries.

Of course, cycling has had exponentially more high-profile players banned for doping than tennis has. Despite all the previous years of testing, Sharapova is by far the biggest fish they’ve ever caught. The most recent case, a month ago, was an obscure 17-year-old from Uzbekistan named Arsan Arashov.

The ITF statistics for 2016 only specify a range for each player. They also don’t include tests by the players’ national anti-doping entities, or any testing done at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It is at best not comprehensive, at worst scattershot and vague.

Even Sharapova’s situation was more a timing issue than anything else. The substance she was banned for, meldonium, was legal until Jan. 1 of last year.

The press-release quote from ITF President David Haggerty:

“On behalf of the partners in the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme, we welcome this strengthening of the sport’s anti-doping efforts. Protecting the integrity of tennis is an ongoing priority of the governing bodies of tennis to ensure that tennis is and remains a clean sport, and these enhancements will make a positive contribution to achieving that priority”.

Read the press release here.

New drugs monitored in ’17

The ITF is monitoring some fairly well-known products for 2017. Remember, meldonium was originally placed on this monitoring list for 2015 before being promoted to the banned substances list for 2016.

Codeine, caffeine and nicotine are included on the list.

Also included, among others, are:

Buproprion (brand names Wellbutrin and Zyban). It’s primarily used as an antidepressant and a stop-smoking medication.

Synephrine (sometimes known as bitter orange). It’s already on the NCAA’s banned list.

Telmisartan, a hypertension drug.

How many will end up on the 2018 banned list is not known (we’re thinking they probably have bigger fish to fry than caffeine and nicotine).

(Photo from the ITF’s website)

On the day Sharapova returns, Bouchard throws shade

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When athletes offer a frank, unfiltered opinion these days, they do so at their own risk.

So credit to players like Roberta Vinci, Agnieszka Radwanska and, today, Eugenie Bouchard for risking the wrath of the Sharapova legions to speak out about how they feel about her return.

Bouchard, especially, might have minced words, knowing the serious slump she’s in at the moment is easy pickings for major backlash. But the 23-year-old has looked up to Sharapova since she was a little girl – wanted to be her, in all of the superficial ways in which Sharapova is famous.

So, she had her say in Istanbul.

Bouchard’s statement was stronger than most of the others out there, most of whom merely answered a question about whether Sharapova deserved wild cards as she returns from a 15-month doping suspension.

It’s naive in many ways. Not all doping violations are equal; Sharapova hadn’t exactly been caught taking stanazolol for a decade. So to lump every single circumstance under that banner is not thinking it through. But a lot of people out there are going to agree with her.

Interview released for maximum impact

The interview clearly was done before the start of the tournament. So it doesn’t appear Bouchard was just looking for some extra attention on a day all was focused on Sharapova.

Of course the TV network waited for today, as Sharapova returns to action, to post it (it’s the final question).

Even the title on that YouTube video is grist for the mill, because that came nearly three years ago.

Here’s what Bouchard said.

Bouchard“I don’t think that’s right. She’s a cheater and so, to me, I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again. It’s so unfair to all the the others players who do it the right way and are true. I just think from the WTA it sends the wrong message to young kids: cheat, and we’ll welcome you back with open arms.

“I don’t think that’s right, and definitely not someone I can say I look up to any more, because it’s definitely ruined it for me a little bit.”

The rest of the interview is so banal as to be nap-inducing. So that strong stand definitely came out of nowhere, unsolicited.

Bouchard has voiced this opinion before.

When Sharapova first announced she had taken meldonium and failed a doping test, just at the start of Indian Wells last year, Bouchard said much the same thing.