USA ......... a nation of drug cheats.
Anti-doping body demands explanation over Andre Agassi drug test.
October 30, 2009
THE world's leading anti-doping authority has implored the sport's chiefs to shed light on the reasons Andre Agassi's positive test to crystal methamphetamine never became public.
While Agassi's contemporaries are mixed in their support of the grand-slam great, John Fahey, the Australian in charge of the World Anti-Doping Agency, urged the Association of Tennis Professionals to come clean on the process that saw the star caught and then cleared in a secret investigation in 1997.
WADA yesterday confirmed that Agassi can not be penalised for his shock admission given an eight-year statute of limitations that prevents the body from prosecuting the former world No1.
The maximum ban at the time of the offence was three months given the drug was listed as recreational rather than performance-enhancing, though under current rules Agassi would face a two-year ban.
Agassi, who confessed to snorting ice off a coffee table at a time his career was in free-fall amid injury concerns and doubts surrounding his pending marriage to actress Brooke Shields, blamed the positive test on consuming a drink spiked by an assistant.
Australia's Davis Cup coach Todd Woodbridge was among those stunned that Agassi's explanation was accepted - and not publicly revealed - until Wednesday.
"I was playing at the time and competing against him and the (question) at the time is that the ATP let him get away with it," he said in Melbourne. "If they knew about those and let him get away with it, then it makes a mockery of the system at the time."
Former Wimbledon champion Michael Stich was equally scathing of those controlling tennis, suggesting Agassi was let off "because he was so important to the game".
"The fact that he was using it, escaped drug tests and said he used it accidentally raises a lot of questions towards the ATP," the German told BBC Radio. "Why was Andre Agassi not suspended if he tested positive and why was it never brought to the attention of the media and the players? Nobody ever heard about it."
Andy Roddick, the last American to win a grand slam tournament, and fellow US professional Amer Delic were yesterday supportive of Agassi - who details his career in a soon-to-be-released autobiography titled Open - on the Twitter network.
"Andre is and always will be my idol," Roddick wrote. "I will judge him on how he's treated me and how he has changed the world for better." Delic described Agassi's decision to come clean as courageous.
"If that is the worst thing he has done then it is not taking anything away from his career," he wrote.
The Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, playing in Doha, were less willing to discuss the fate of the American idol.
"I don't know what crystal meth is, that's my reaction. I haven't read anything about his book," said Serena, who will finish the year the world's top-ranked woman.
Fahey said the Agassi case illustrated why an independent body was needed to ensure individual sports complied with anti-doping codes.
"This ensures that no doping case is swept under the carpet," Fahey said. "The anti-doping system under the World Anti-Doping Code now ensures that a hearing by an independent tribunal occurs and excuses cannot be acted upon outside of such transparency.
"WADA would, however, expect the ATP, which administered its own anti-doping program at that time, to shed light on this allegation."
Mark Miles, who was chief executive of the ATP at the time, would not comment directly on the Agassi case but the body attempted to distance itself from the controversy by saying any decision on doping matters was decided by an independent body.
"I can't comment on any case. I can't even confirm that there was a case involving Andre. And I'm not going to comment on Andre's book," Miles told a leading tennis website.
"But I can amplify. I've seen the ATP statement and the statement is true. The ATP program was set up to ensure that any decision on any case was decided by a panel, a tribunal and there were no exceptions to that."
Richard Ings, who headed the ATP's anti-doping and corruption unit for four years from 2001 until taking over as chief of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, told The Australian from Paris, where he is attending a conference, that he believed the body had acted in an appropriate way when dealing with Agassi.
"The rules in tennis in 1997 are the same as the rules in tennis today in that the independent tribunal's expert is appointed to hear the facts of the case and hand down a decision that is beholding to both the player and the sport," Ings said.
"The matter, as being discussed here, relates to rules in place 12 years ago, predating WADA and the introduction of the WADA code in 2002.
"The WADA code now provides a stringent platform for all sports to have a robust and transparent anti-doping program and tennis has long been a signatory of the WADA code."
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