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More Stringent Drug Testing In Professional Tennis

Sports authorities in the world of international professional tennis have adopted a more rigorous drug screening program intended to more thoroughly ferret out player misconduct. Known as a “biological passport” program, the screening would involve tracking data about a tennis player’s blood over a period of time, and increasing the frequency with which screening tests are conducted.

The new testing regime will be in effect this year when the men and women’s tours held under the auspices of the International Tennis Federation are begun. Players will pass drug tests even when competitions are not currently ongoing, and be conducted without prior notice.

Some had previously criticized professional tennis as extremely light on drug testing of players. Statistics showed that tennis players, in 2011, were only subjected to a total of 21 drug screening tests outside the context of actual tournaments. Counting tournament tests, 2,150 screenings were held that year. Further, critics complained, human growth hormone and E.P.O, a popular performance-enhancing drug, were only screened for in an insignificant 131 blood tests. The current testing budget is reported as only being $2 million, and there have been calls to greatly expand it.

By tracking athlete’s blood over time, the biological passport testing program, advocates say, should be able to better detect deviations from an athlete’s baseline status. Other sport attempting to reduce player doping, including track and field and cycling, are already using some variation of the program. In the cycling world, the effort was prompted in part  by the well-publicized scandal over the doping of cyclist Lance Armstrong. The exact number of drug tests that professional tennis players would be subjected to was not specified.

A number of professional tennis players who pride themselves on not using prohibited drugs had called for the enhanced screening program to be adopted. A doctor accused of involvement in cyclist doping has stated that he also had professional tennis player clients, but he did not list any names.