Monday, November 9, 2009

Is WADA Getting it Right?


I was already feeling a little drugged-out this week, with all the talk of Andre Agassi's crystal meth exploits and Tim Lincecum being caught with a bag of weed while driving his Mercedes on an Oregon Freeway.

Perhaps you were too?

But those stories, while controversial, and perhaps symptoms of a larger issue (the issue being that recreational drugs are eating at the very core of our once moral and virtuous society - okay, at least it was more moral and more virtuous, right?), didn't produce the same effect as the very harsh 1 year suspension that was handed down to Belgian 20-year-old Yanina Wickmayer.

In violating the ITF's ultra-rigid whereabouts rule three times, Wickmayer has found herself in very real and exasperating situation that should have been avoided.

I am not here to bash the ITF, who enforces the policies of WADA (World Antidoping Agency), for they are merely standing firmly by the guidelines that they have set forth and made available to all the players. Nor am I here to bash Wickmayer, who has captivated me with her energetic brand of tennis in rising from World No. 67 to World No. 16 in less than a year.

And maybe that is the true problem here, the true grist of my anger and frustration with all of this. It is unclear who is to blame, and it is unclear as to whether Wickmayer is an innocent being unnecessarily led off into tennis purgatory or a sneaky doper who tried to skirt the ITF's rigid drug policy, but failed.

It is, unfortunately, one of those questions that will forever remain unanswered.

And it isn't the only question that will remain unanswered. Here are a few more:

Why wasn't Wickmayer given proper warning by the ITF regarding her whereabouts infractions before things had gotten to this point? In other words, is there ongoing communication taking place between player and governing body, or is there a detached sort of bureaucratic animosity that lends itself to these kind of unnecessary violations? I ask this question because Wickmayer is a young girl. She's barely turned 20. If you've leafed through the copious and perhaps senselessly rigid instructions of the whereabouts policy like I have, you can probably imagine a similar scenario existing for yourself.

Which brings me to my next question: What the hell was coach and father Marc Wickmayer doing during all of this? Again, I don't know the whole story, and as I mentioned earlier I probably never will, but isn't it safe to assume that the coach and father of a 20-year-old girl would be making sure that her daughter didn't accidentally commit a doping violation?

Wickmayer has expressed surprise at the suspension, and claimed in this piece that is was not until June that she learned that her whereabouts were out of order. Since then, she says, she has gotten her act together.

Of course, there is a part of me that says everyone else complied, so why couldn't she? I've heard Wickmayer's claim that she was having password problems, but the real problem here seems to be a lack of communication between Wickmayers' coach and father and the ITF.

So in the end, the sport loses a fiery competitor who seemed destined to make a run at the top 10 and maybe higher next year. Now it looks like she is destined for a grey period full of bad press, accusations, and the frustration of having to watch Grand-Slam championships knowing full well that she should have been competing in them.

I love the idea of the sport of tennis being clean, but I hate the idea of it becoming so stubborn in it's mission that it takes down innocent bystanders with stray bullets made of righteousness.

Is that we're were at now?

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