10 Takeaways from the ITF’s Viktor Troicki Decision

The ITF released its tribunal’s full decision in the Viktor Troicki case. Here are some takeaways from the 25-page document, which explains the events that led to Troicki’s 18 month suspension:

1. Novak Djokovic signed a witness statement to support Troicki:

Witness statements signed by Mr Novak Djokovic, Mr Aleksander Troicki, Mr Milos Jelisavcic, Professor Slobodanka Djukic (“Professor Djukic”) and Dr Bernard Montalvan.

2. This is the gist of the case:

Mr Troicki accepts that he was duly notified of the requirement to give both urine and blood samples following his match on 15 April 2013. He also accepts that, while he gave a urine sample, a blood sample was not given by him following that notification. His contention, which is disputed by the ITF, is that in the circumstances (which are set out below in the following sections of this Decision) there was no failure or refusal by him to give a blood sample, alternatively that he had a compelling justification for any such failure or refusal. Accordingly, he denies the Charge.

3. Troicki has been on the ATP Tour for 10 years. He’s been given blood tests a grand total of five times, ever. How sad is that?

He has given numerous urine samples over the years (he thought around 80) and blood samples on five occasions.

4. Apparently phobias are hereditary now.

There was clear and convincing evidence that Mr Troicki has suffered since childhood from a phobia of needles (a condition that he had inherited from his father).

5. Troicki was informed by the ATP Tour Manager that he was required to do the blood test.

On the way to the DCS, Mr Troicki and Mr Charleux passed by the office of the ATP Tour Manager, Mr Bratoev. Mr Troicki told Mr Bratoev that he had been selected for a blood test, but that he felt dizzy and unwell and that giving blood made him feel bad. Mr Bratoev’s response was that, once selected, he had to do the test.

6. Troicki wrote a letter explaining his decision to refuse a blood test:

“I was not able to do the blood test today since I was feeling very bad …for the blood test I asked kindly to skip it this time, since I get very dizzy after giving the blood out so even before the test I didn’t feel good, so I felt it would be even worse for my health condition to do it today. I always did blood tests before, and I do them in the future, but today I was not provide blood sample. Thank you very much in advance for your understanding”.

7. The DCO laid out her account of the story right after the incident in an email to her supervisor, which contradicts Troicki’s story:

At about the same time, Dr Gorodilova sent an email to her superior, Neal Soderstrom (“Mr Soderstrom”), telling him what had occurred with Mr Troicki. She wrote:

“…he informed us that he was unable to provide the blood sample today due to his health conditions. We said that he must have the blood test. He said that he feels very bad today and could not provide the blood sample, we advised him to contact dr S Miller. We have only fax number, he tried several times, it was not working. We asked to write and explain why he can not provide the blood sample. He signed the BCF and wrote on the separated sheet of paper why he is unable to provide the blood sample….”

8. Although Troicki asserted that Dr. Gorodilova assured him that everything would be okay if he wrote the note explaining his stance to the ITF, evidence from Jack Reader contradicts this:

In his oral evidence, Mr Reader also stated that he thought at the time that Mr Troicki’s request to speak to Dr Miller was because “something was not quite sitting with [Mr Troicki]…he was not quite sure, not convinced that everything was going to be ok”.

9. Troicki’s case hinges on the credibility of the DCO, Dr. Gorodilova. The tribunal concluded that Gorodilova was a credible witness, and that she had no reason to give Troicki any assurances that the letter would exempt him from the blood test without consequences.

Dr Gorodilova is a highly experienced DCO (having been involved in anti-doping work in sport for 15 years). As such she is well aware of her responsibilities and the limits of her powers. In particular, she was well aware on 15 April 2013 that it was indeed not her decision (but rather that of the ITF) whether it was open to Mr Troicki to avoid giving blood on that day or whether that avoidance would result in sanctions for an Anti-Doping Rule Violation.

10. This is the tribunal’s (outrageous, in my opinion) explanation for why Troicki does not have to forfeit prize money or ranking points from events he played after Monte Carlo. To summarize, they allow Troicki’s blood test taken the following day (when several substances could theoretically leave the system) to be a mitigating factor in their decision. I don’t understand this at all.

Article 10.8 of the Programme provides that “all other competitive results obtained from the date the Sample in question was collected…or other Anti-Doping Rule Violation occurred through to the start of the Ineligibility period shall be Disqualified (with all of the resulting consequences, including forfeiture of any medals, titles, ranking points and Prize Money), unless the Independent tribunal determines that fairness requires otherwise”. The ITF submits that the burden is on Mr Troicki to establish why fairness requires otherwise in the circumstances of his case. Accepting that burden, Mr Troicki argues that it would be unfair to Disqualify him in respect of subsequent events because he was truly convinced that he had not broken the Rules. While we have not accepted that as a fair summary of the player’s state of mind at the time, we are nonetheless of the view that fairness dictates that Mr Troicki should not suffer any Disqualification beyond the event in question.

In reaching that conclusion, we have borne in mind the helpful analysis of the relevant authorities on this point in the case of Bogomolov (an ITF AntiDoping Tribunal Decision of 18 January 2005). It seems to us that, in circumstances where the Anti-Doping Rule Violation is constituted by a failure or refusal to submit to giving a sample, where there is no suggestion that this failure or refusal was in fact prompted by the player’s desire to evade the detection of a banned substance in his system, where there have been subsequent negative tests (including on the following day) and where the facts of the case warrant some mitigation of sanction under Article 10.5.2 of the Programme, it would be disproportionate to penalise Mr Troicki in respect of his subsequent playing activities.

Amy can be spotted on a tennis court in the Philadelphia area, shanking backhand volleys.

5 Responses

  1. Ana
    Ana July 26, 2013 at 1:11 pm |

    If I were going to extend & complicate this account, I’d add material from paragraphs 32, 33, 38, 39, & 44, where Troicki’s argument & testimony are evaluated.  For instance, he was not trying to argue that feeling unwell alone constituted a “compelling justification” for skipping or delaying the test, but that his physical (& perhaps mental) state combined with what he took to be the DCO’s assurances amounted to such. I’d also note that Troicki didn’t only interact with the ATP manager en route to the doping control station, but after the process–& the next day–as well (see paragraph 16 & ff). In fact, Mr. Bratoev served as a witness for the defense, so his testimony paints a more complicated (even equivocal) picture than does your point 5.

    I gather–from the final point especially–that you don’t think the sanction was harsh enough. But what of the tribunal’s conclusion that “there is no suggestion that this failure or refusal [to take the blood test] was in fact prompted by the player’s desire to evade the detection of a banned substance in his system?”  Isn’t this a relevant mitigating factor? They seemed to believe much, perhaps all, of Troicki’s explanation for why he did what he did, even if they weren’t convinced this was sufficient justification for breaking the rule. In sum, I think there’s a decent argument to be made, using slightly different evidence from the ruling, that the penalty was too harsh. I’m just too tired to do more than gesture in that general direction at present (plus, Troicki’s legal team is being paid to make the case to the CAS, so I’m off the hook!). In the spirit of Goldilocks, I ask: too much, too little, or just right? I’ll be curious to see what the consensus is once more people have weighed in on the case.

  2. Jewell
    Jewell July 28, 2013 at 1:42 am |

    I think the ridiculing of the hereditary fear is really unfair. It could easily be something one learns from one’s parents and that wouldn’t make it any less real to the person with the phobia.

    Not that I have a ton of sympathy for Troicki or think that a needle phobia is a valid get-out.

    What I want to know is, what the fuck was Reader doing for his player in all this? Seemed incredibly lax up to the point where he started to think “uh-oh, maybe this could be trouble.”

  3. fig
    fig July 29, 2013 at 2:05 pm |

    I have such a hard time with the ATF’s decision here. If it is true that Troicki sought council from Dr Miller for clarification, and Dr Miller was not available, then doesn’t this fall on the ATF? It seems clear that this aspect of the rule is unclear and the punishment ought not fall on Troicki.

    I particularly have trouble with the portion of the ruling that states that the fact that Troicki even sought clarification is evidence against him. It seems to me he was doing his best to understand what was required. That’s evidence in his favor, not against it.

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