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.