Agassi confession will open can of worms

By Online Editorial

Andre Agassi

As news broke that one of the world’s most popular tennis players ever admitted to having taken crystal meth and lied about it to the tennis authorities, Simon Mundie discusses the long-term repercussions of the incident and how it might change tennis.

It’s being described as a dark day for tennis. The day Andre Agassi, a player loved around the world as much as any other in the history of the sport, admitted that he lied to the ATP to save his career after failing a drugs test. The showman from Las Vegas claims he tested positive for the recreational drug crystal meth in 1997 in his new autobiography.

That was, of course, the worst year of Agassi’s professional career which saw his ranking slide as low as number 141 in the world, in all likelihood no coincidence.

Some will argue that Agassi’s reputation is tarnished for good, and that may be the case in some quarters; yet I believe most people will feel no less affection for the eight-time Grand Slam winner.

Taking crystal meth is certainly not performance enhancing; you only have to look at the pictures of the ragged faces of habitual meth users which can easily be found on the internet to see that here is a drug that clearly ravages your body in an almost unparalleled way.

Some people may even feel it adds a further dimension to what was a remarkable and turbulent tennis career, which saw Agassi reach the highest peaks and tumble to some painful lows, all the while wearing his heart on his sleeve and on the whole striving to look inside and change himself for the better.

It was that journey that made Agassi so accessible, and turned even his most ardent critics into fans by the time he hung up his racket.

The question about the use of recreational versus performance enhancing drug use has already been touched upon. It is an emotive issue to be left alone for now as different people will have different views, and while Agassi’s reputation may be called into question, it is unlikely to suffer permanent damage.

However, the sport itself may not be so lucky, as the whole sorry episode raises several important questions, and the possible repercussions could be dramatic as the tennis authorities seek to exercise ‘damage limitation’.

It was the International Tennis Federation who took over the drug testing in tennis from the Association of Tennis Professionals in 2006, ironically the year Agassi retired. It was widely seen as a positive move, as there should have been no further conflict of interest as there may have been under the previous regime.

But the case of Richard Gasquet, who was briefly banned from the tour for testing positive for cocaine earlier this year, shows that the ITF aren’t the fearsome organisation some would have hoped for.

Gasquet was eventually cleared after blaming his positive test on a kiss with a Miami waitress, thus clearing the Frenchman’s path to return to the tour right away.

There will inevitably be some people who question Gasquet’s explanation in light of Agassi’s confession, which won’t go unnoticed by the ITF. Does this mean that in future, players who test positive will be given less leeway when it comes to their explanations? Would Gasquet have been treated more harshly had his test come after ‘Agassi-gate’?

A further worry is that people will now look at tennis and think ‘all is not what it seems’. How many other players have been found guilty of a positive drugs test, and yet managed to talk their way out of it? Is the sport too scared to punish its’ most bankable stars?

It wouldn’t be surprising if the rules around drugs testing were now to become far more draconian, with more frequent testing, and less tolerance for players found with anything untoward in their blood stream, as the authorities look to re-establish the higher moral ground. That harsher stance is all the more likely in light of the World Anti-Doping agency (Wada) asking the ATP to ‘shed light’ on Agassi’s case.

Earlier this year, Andy Murray voiced his displeasure about the new drugs testing rules, after he was tested three times in just over a fortnight, and required to inform the authorities of his whereabouts for at least one hour every single day of the year. Murray called the system unfair, and claimed it affected his enjoyment of life on tour.

In light of this latest episode, Murray could well expect things to get worse before they get better.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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