As many as 156 professional tennis players failed drugs tests between 2013 and 2019, Honest Sport has found, and only one third of them (34%) were sanctioned.
In 2016 alone, 19 players who were charged with a doping offence escaped a ban yet only two of those cases were made public.
In 2018, 16 players were deemed to have “no case to answer” by the International Tennis Federation (ITF), and 72% of all players who tested positive that year were not suspended from professional tennis.
The identity of the majority of these players, the substance they tested positive for and the reasons as to why they were cleared of all charges has never been made public.
The ITF, since September 2016, has publicly announced all provisional suspensions. However if a player tests positive for “Specified Substances”, such as asthma drugs, diuretics or corticosteroids, they can refuse a provisional suspension and continue competing. This also applies in swimming, cycling and track and field.
Between 2013 and 2019, the International Cycling Union (UCI) sanctioned 46% of athletes who failed a doping test while World Athletics banned 49%. The International Swimming Federation (FINA) has the lowest conviction rate at 28%.
Before this year’s Wimbledon, a Mail on Sunday investigation found that the International Tennis Federation (ITF), before some major tournaments, including grand slams, warns all competing players that they will be subject to Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) testing, a tool used to detect blood doping indirectly.
The ITF’s own rules state that players should be given “no advance notice” of any doping tests save for in “exceptional and justifiable circumstances”.
Now Honest Sport has found that, starting in 2018, the ITF reduced the number of direct blood doping tests conducted by 40%.
Every season, the ITF subjects the world’s top 100 male and female singles players, who comprise the ITF’s registered drug testing pool, to both in- and out-of-competition doping tests. Players must provide information of their whereabouts for an hour each day of the year so that they can be located for doping controls.
According to World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) statistics, the ITF collected 29,637 blood and urine samples, between 2013 and 2019, from players both inside and outside the world’s top 100.
Only 156 of these 29,637 samples were found to contain a prohibited substance – a rate of 0.5%.
Every time a professional athlete fails a doping test, the relevant anti-doping body will make sure the drug test was carried out conforming to international standards. If this is so, and the athlete does not possess a medical exemption to take the drug, and the anti-doping body believes the athlete has a case to answer, then they are charged with an anti-doping rule violation and, in many cases, provisionally suspended.
The athlete then has the opportunity to defend themselves against the anti-doping agency’s charge at an independent tribunal.
Honest Sport has found that of those 156 positive doping samples, which were ruled adverse analytical findings (AAF), only 53 of them (34%) led to a player being convicted of an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV).