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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
ATP on the rack
By Tom Fordyce

Greg Rusedski celebrates
Rusedski has successfully cleared his name

The not guilty verdict on Greg Rusedski may have been great news for the player, but it has left men's tennis in crisis.

The governing body of the men's game, the Association of Tennis Professionals, faces its nightmare scenario: the world's top players keep testing positive for banned drugs, and it does not have the faintest idea why.

When the steroid nandrolone was first found in the urine samples of seven players between 2002 and 2003, the ATP let them off on the basis that it was unable to prove that the nandrolone had not come from supplements given out by its own trainers.

Now it appears increasingly likely that the contaminated supplements theory may have been flawed.

Since the point in May last year when the ATP says it instructed its trainers to stop giving out the electrolyte tablets under suspicion, not only has Rusedski tested positive but another 21 other players have shown low-level trace readings of nandrolone or its precursors - in 2004 alone.

None of the 21 had a sufficiently high reading to trigger disciplinary action, but the question remains the same - if those tablets were no longer being given out, just what is causing all the positive tests?

Near-epidemic

The ATP's trainers were understood to be furious after being made scapegoats last year. The World Anti-Doping Agency also questioned the validity of that explanation.

Forty-three other players showed low-level readings of nandrolone before the start of this year. That makes it a near-epidemic of nandrolone in the men's game.

No-one seriously believes that all players involved were deliberately taking steroids. So where have all the tests come from?

The ATP has pledged to "re-double efforts to identify the cause of these test results", and has recruited two new experts to help with the ongoing investigation.

Mark Miles of the ATP at a news conference
The ATP's Mark Miles faces an uncomfortable month

It needs to find a plausible answer - and fast.

Tennis has to appear to be a clean sport to convince the general public to take it seriously.

Its testing programme is rigorous - Wimbledon champion Roger Federer was dope-tested more than 20 times last year - but all that counts for nothing with the public if all anyone hears is of unexplained scandals involving great swathes of players.

Just as embarrassing for Mark Miles, the ATP chief executive, was the direct criticism implied by the tribunal which heard Rusedski's case.

"The tribunal concluded that he (Rusedski) should have received personal notification of the risk of taking an electrolyte supplement previously distributed by ATP trainers, and that the ATP notices posted in the player newsletters, player intranet website and locker rooms were not adequate," admitted Miles on Wednesday.

Pressing task

The ATP also needs to deal with the problem of what exactly it is safe for its players to take after matches.

Many of the world's top 100 are deeply concerned about being forced to play long games in hot conditions without recourse to multi-vitamins, salts and carbohydrate drinks.

It has set up a task force chaired by former top 10 player Jan Leschly and including Tim Henman and Andre Agassi to look into the problem, but the continuing positive tests make that an even more pressing task.

The ATP may also face the possibility of legal action from Rusedski, whose reputation has been dragged through the mud since news broke in January of his positive test.

It could argue that it was the player, and not they themselves, who released details of his test - but as Rusedski has been cleared on the basis that the ATP could not prove that it was not responsible for his positive reading in the first instance, they would be fighting from a weak position.

The events of the past two years have left the ATP open to ridicule. Rusedski may wish to put this whole mess behind him, but there are too many questions left unanswered for the ATP to do the same.





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