April 08, 2010
American tennis player Wayne Odesnik pleaded guilty last week to importing eight vials of human growth hormone into Australia before a tournament in January. He has since become a pariah in the tennis community, earning public scoldings from Andy Roddick, James Blake, Mardy Fish and many others for drawing negative attention on a sport with a relatively clean track record when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs.
So, if Odesnik says he's guilty and everyone else knows he's guilty, why on earth is he being allowed to play at the U.S. Clay Court Championships in Houston this week? Because the ITF and ATP are taking a cowardly stance in terms of doping. For two organizations that have done fairly well in keeping tennis PED-free (or keeping up the appearance that it is), this is a disconcerting development.
Jon Wertheim of SI.com asked Barbara Travers of the ITF why Odesnik was still playing this week. She said:
"Wayne Odesnik is entitled to due process under the Tennis Anti-Doping Program, just as you and I are entitled to this protection under our legal systems. He has not as yet been found guilty of a doping offense under the rules of the TADP and therefore is allowed to play. In order not to prejudice the player's ability to defend himself in his criminal case, the TADP decided to await the outcome of those proceedings rather than run concurrently, but began the process immediately once the decision of the Australian Court was taken. The player is entitled to put forward a defense and this can take some time and he has elected not to take a provisional suspension.
Anytime a sports official talks about due process and how athletes should be subject to the same protections as ordinary citizens under the law, it's doublespeak for "we're hiding behind the inane rules we've created." Because, really, there's no reason Odesnik should be playing right now. He pleaded guilty. He doesn't debate this. The ITF should hand out an indefinite suspension, complete the investigation (which should really take about five minutes considering the facts in the case) and then given Odesnik the two-year ban he deserves. And even though the ATP lets the ITF handle doping cases, they could have done something also. It's more hiding behind red tape to the detriment of the game.
If Odesnik is suspended later, as expected, he will retroactively have to forfeit any prize money and rankings points he earned since the investigation began. But that will be of little comfort to the man he beat in the round of 32 (Jerzy Janowicz) or anyone else who might fall to Odesnik in Houston.