The ITF announced today that Viktor Troicki has been suspended for 18 months for refusing to take a blood test during Monte Carlo.
According to the press release, Troicki is claiming there was a miscommunication:
Mr Troicki, a 27-year-old player from Serbia, was notified on 15 April 2013 that he had been selected to provide a urine sample and a blood sample in association with his participation at the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters event.
Mr Troicki provided a urine sample, but did not provide a blood sample. He asserted to an independent tribunal that he was assured by the Doping Control Officer (DCO) that it would be acceptable not to provide a sample on account of him feeling unwell that day. However, the tribunal concluded that the DCO told Mr Troicki that she could not advise him as to whether his reason for not providing a blood sample was valid, and that no such assurances were given by her.
While it’s debatable whether Troicki’s story is believable or not (the tribunal apparently did not buy his explanation) there are several things to consider in the ITF’s decision to suspend him:
- If an athlete gets caught doping or refusing a test because they know they will test positive, much more often than not, the athlete will fight back and proclaim their own innocence. We’ve seen it countless times. Often the athlete, much like Ryan Braun, to cite a recent example, will claim innocence based on a procedural issue with the test. Troicki’s explanation here is similar in that he’s raising the issue of the DCO’s credibility. Often where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Just because a player has an explanation doesn’t mean it’s true (or false, for that matter).
- The ITF keeps the players informed of antidoping guidelines. Troicki’s a seasoned veteran on the ATP Tour. One would think he might remember back when Xavier Malisse and Yanina Wickmayer were suspended for whereabouts violations. It’s the tennis player’s responsibility to know that the antidoping rules are extremely strict. You can’t just refuse to take a test because you don’t feel like it.
- It seems highly unlikely that a trained DCO would have told Troicki that skipping the blood test was acceptable. That seems pretty much like the opposite of what would’ve happened.
- I think it’s strange that Troicki would feel well enough to provide a urine sample, but not a blood test.
- If the reports that Troicki took a blood test the next day and tested negative are true, that means nothing. There are substances that will exit the system in hours, so a negative test after the fact should have no bearing on this. Lance Armstrong and the USPS team often used delay tactics to avoid testing positive. And there’s a reason why the rules state that the test must be administered in a surprise fashion.
The ITF has gotten a lot of things wrong. The handling of the Wayne Odesnik case is ridiculous, and an embarrassment to the sport. The lack of information from their supposed investigations is frustrating, and they don’t test players nearly enough. But in order to have an effective antidoping program, stringency in testing procedures is paramount, so I can’t fault them for taking a hard stance on a case like this one. And I suspect that Troicki’s suspension will be overturned or reduced if his explanation proves credible during the appeal process.