Tennis and the Biological Passport

By Matt McGrain on March 11, 2013
Tennis and the Biological Passport
A second side effect of testing? Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather might have come off.

Tennis is not a proper sport; nobody bleeds. But it is a game run with considerably more professionalism than boxing…

Tennis is not a proper sport; nobody bleeds.

But it is a game run with considerably more professionalism than boxing (please note: so is croquet). The International Tennis Federation, following a meeting at which—boxing federations, cover your tender ears—a group of adults accepted responsibility for the problem of doping in their sport and after a meeting announced the plans they were adopting to deal with the issue.

That crash you heard was Jose Sulaiman fainting, stage left (I originally wrote “having a heart attack” instead of “fainting,” but that isn’t funny, is it…no…). Sulaiman has paid lip service, in the light of his organizations utterly bizarre admittance that they “forgot” to test Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.’s urine after his February 2012 fight with Marco Antonio Rubio, to increased drug control. Perhaps Sulaiman, who apparently broke news of the failure to test Chavez to the press himself, can be forgiven for the “shrug” that reportedly accompanied this announcement because we all know that testing a fighter’s piss is about as effective as strapping a pair of plastic tits to a bull and trying to milk it, but a cynical boxing press can also be pardoned for considering his December utterance that the WBC were considering introducing mandatory drug tests for its title fights was more about damage control than change. The thunderous silence since seems to have confirmed this. Now tennis has shown the way.

The way a biological passport works is to monitor, under increased testing, any variances in the blood and urine work in a given athlete. That is, what is normal for that athlete’s blood and urine samples will be encoded onto the biological passport allowing any unusual spikes or dips to be identified and then investigated. This spares a governing body the direct rod of testing for the every changing variety of specific illegal substance. It is a system based upon the proven biological and psychological stability in the body of a given human being, and the detailed, centrally logged information contained within their passport. Any sportsman (or a tennis player) who can provide a biological passport can prove that he is competing in a natural state, at least in accordance with the test.

The UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) has been using this system since 2008. It was this program that led to concerns, as early as 2009, surrounding disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong. Their website states that “…with the new approach, each sample will be compared with the rider’s own individual ‘normal’ hematological levels. Any significant variations can then be assessed for possible blood manipulation. The approach relies on the concept of ‘indirect’ detection. Scientists will not actually ‘see’ a banned substance in a sample. Instead they will compare the parameters of the new sample to parameters measured in previous samples.”

If anything odd is spotted, specific testing can begin, and if the testing shows true anomalies, an athlete can be legitimately pulled, much like a driver who has just failed a breathalyzer test.

Sounds too good to be true, right? For boxing, it likely is. Firstly, it would call for Sulaiman and others like him to dig into their pockets and fork out for something they don’t have to by law. It is the very height of bizarre that in boxing currently we are looking to the competitors and not the governing bodies to solve this problem; we nag fighters about volunteering for—and paying for—“Olympic” drug testing but never think to bother the WBC, IBF, whoever. It would be nice to see that change.

Secondly, there are so many of these parasites now, they could kill a guy. I haven’t counted for a while, but I’m pretty sure that if every single governing body for whom Wladimir Klitschko carries a belt wanted to gouge blood from his veins in the run up to his title fights, they’d have killed him stone dead within a year. At least it would make his May clash with someone called Francesco Pianeta a little more competitive.

A second side effect? Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather might have come off.

Or perhaps a cheat would have been caught.

But keep dreaming.

The difference between tennis and boxing is more than just the manliness of its competitors. There is also the relative moral courage of those in charge.

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