(January 19, 2013) -- Before Lance Armstrong’s much-anticipated sit down with Oprah Winfrey, it was difficult to fathom that someone could utter the words, “I’m sorry…I feel ashamed…I feel humbled,” yet still appear to the viewing audience as narcissistic and arrogant. It was fascinating, really. But, while the interview may not have restored our faith in a great sports champion, it did provide the game of tennis with several applicable takeaways.
Armstrong credits the biological passport system and a significant increase in out-of-competition testing for the “clean” state of cycling today. Tennis must follow suit. Last fall, ITF anti-doping manager Stuart Miller said “it would be nice” if tennis could implement a passport program, which, according to WADA, is the “monitoring of selected biological parameters over time that will indirectly reveal the effects of doping rather than attempting to detect the doping substance itself.”
Next, the ITF must drastically increase the number of out-of-competition tests and blood tests done annually. In 2011 there were just 216 and 131 respectively. With numbers like those, players interested in scamming the system would have ample opportunity to do so.
Armstrong mentioned that testing clean at a race was “all a matter of scheduling.” Considering the aforementioned minscule number of out-of-competition tests administered by the ITF anti-doping program, those five words were more telling in relation to the game of tennis than anything else Armstrong admitted to Oprah during their two-hour interview. The ITF, as well as players who think the current tennis testing program is sufficient, should take note.
Spain was once again confirmed as a hotbed of doping activity. Despite defending him at multiple points during his career, Armstrong admitted that U.S. Postal Service team doctor Michele Ferrari was, in fact, the doping mastermind he was accused of being. In a voiceover, Winfrey explained that cyclists were often flown to Spain in private jets to receive “secret blood transfusions.”
Luis Garcia del Moral, another USPS cycling team doctor, was a consulting physician for the TenisVal Academy in Valencia, Spain, for nearly 15 years (this overlaps with the five years he worked for USPS from 1999-2003). During that time, David Ferrer, Sara Errani, and Dinara Safina, among others, had trained at the TenisVal facility.
It is not in the ATP, WTA, or ITF’s best interests to “circle the wagons” if specific names are mentioned. Though Christophe Rochus may not have taken the most tasteful approach with his recent remarks on the doping topic, far too many whistleblowers have been discredited and sued in the downfall of both baseball and cycling only to be proven correct after the dust settled. The various governing bodies in tennis should take any such comments seriously.
Just because an athlete adamantly, and publicly, denies wrongdoing does not mean he/she is telling the truth. As humans, we want to believe the good in people. Or, perhaps even more so, we don’t want to believe that we can be fooled. This case again proves the value of asking questions even when proof isn’t readily available (i.e. Armstrong’s “hundreds” of passed tests).
Money and power go a long way in concealing illicit behavior. Not only did Armstrong “bully” those around him into taking part in his agenda, but those complicit in the scheme were often paid off secretly using Swiss bank accounts. Don’t underestimate what money can do.