The entire annual anti-doping budget for all of tennis is less than the prize money for Wimbledon champions.
In 2015, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) spent approximately $4 million on anti-doping while Wimbledon champions Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams bagged $5,320,400 combined.
After severe match-fixing allegations which have been haunting tennis since the Australian Open in January, the sport suffers another blow as Maria Sharapova, the “princess” of tennis, announced she had failed a drug test at Melbourne. The Russian superstar, who has been the highest earning female athlete in the world for the last 11 years, tested positive for Meldonium/Mildronate, a drug she admitted using since 2006 due to health issues.
The Sharapova scandal and the ongoing rumours of other high profile players using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) have many questioning if tennis remains a clean sport. Since January 2005, the ITF anti-doping records show that 21 top hundred singles players among both sexes have been suspended, either for testing positive for a banned substance or missing tests altogether.
They include notable names such as French Open finalist Mariano Puerta, Martina Hingis, Richard Gasquet, Viktor Troicki and 2013 US Open champion Marin Cilic. Despite what appears to be a successful Inquisition on finding players involved in the use of banned substances, there are still many uncertainties about the effectiveness of anti-doping authorities in tennis.
A summary of testing conducted under the 2015 ITF Anti-Doping Programme stated the following:
1912 players (male 1054- female 858) were requested to supply In-competition urine sample.
344 players (male 207-female 137) were required to provide In-competition blood sample.
519 players (male 207-female 137) were required to provide Out-of-Competition urine sample.
1658 players ( 952 males-706 females) were required to provide Out-of-Competition blood sample.
The total amount of players tested by the ITF in and out of competition, for both urine and blood in the 2015 season, was 4433 (2514 males-1919 females).
In 2013, official ITF data shows that there were 8874 male-4862 female active players and it is estimated that in 2015 professional tennis population increased to 10,500-5,500. In 2015, the testing programme banned seven players out of approximately 16,000 active professionals.
The programme appears efficient, and it might sound reasonable enough to test randomly 1261 male out of 10,500 (13%) and 995 female professionals out of 5,500 (18%) during the competition.
Both groups of players are tested one to three times during the season. However, a player competes in an average of 28 to 30 tournaments playing approximately 80 matches a year. Meaning only a small percentage of players are being tested once after a match during two tournaments a year.
The low amount of testing makes it highly unlikely for authorities to detect microdosing- the intake of a very low dose of a drug that is then flushed from the system in a matter of hours- famous in the Lance Armstrong scandal. Roberto Maytin, an active doubles player, who last year was ranked 86 in the world, said to tennis journalist Miguel Cicenia, that in 2015 he was only required to give one urine and no blood samples.
The top 100 Venezuelan player was tested in May after he reached the finals at Cali Challenger in Colombia partnering with Ecuadorian Emilio Gomez son of former 1990 French Open champion Andres Gomez.
Maytin, who lost in the doubles first round of the 2015 Wimbledon championship alongside Benjamin Becker, had scheduled to play in 28 tournaments during the season, but an elbow injury limited him to participate in 15 competitions. During his six-month recovery, the ITF did not perform any antidoping tests on Maytin.
However, the most alarming finding is that 87% of male and 82% of female tennis players were not subjected to one doping analysis throughout the entire 2015 season.
The ITF is relying on selected and random testing which should keep players at bay from using banned substances, but to neglect a total of 9239 males and 4505 females without undergoing proper doping controls seems to be absurd.
An active Central American professional player, who wished to remain anonymous, said the last time he went through an ITF doping control was in Bogota Challenger back in August 2012. Since then, the player who has been ranked among the best 300 in the world, has participated in nearly 90 professional tournaments, (80% futures and 20% Challengers) without being tested once by authorities.
For comparison, in 2014, the IAAF spent $2.5 million ($3M including staff) on anti-doping and did 25,000 tests.