Drug allegations are irresponsible, says Agassi

MELBOURNE: Andre Agassi on yesterday described as irresponsible claims by Australian Andrew Ilie that illegal drug use was rife in professional tennis. 

Ilie, who was knocked out of the Australian Open on Tuesday, said the drug-taking problem in the sport had reached dangerous levels and that some players were prepared to sacrifice their health for three years of fame. 

Random drug blood testing has been introduced at the Australian Open amid fears that the use of EPO, or erythropoietin which boosts the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, has become prevalent in tennis. 

Ilie was reported in the Australian press yesterday as saying he had never used or been offered performance-enhancing drugs, but he said others felt the pressure to perform. 

“The problem is so bad at the moment ... you might as well just let them use it and when players see people dying out there (on the court) and exploding, then it’s going to change their minds,” Ilie told the Herald Sun newspaper. 

“The sport has become so competitive and it has become so powerful and it is just a matter of fitness and who will outlast who out there,” he said. “People are just happy to sacrifice their health for three years of fame.” 

The unsubstantiated claims cut little ice with Agassi, a strong supporter of drug testing at the Open. 

“The one thing that I’d like to stick to is what we do know,” the world No.2 said. 

“And what we do know is while there’s been a minimal amount of players that have been caught over the last 10 years, we are also probably the leading sport in reference to how often we test, how professional our tests are and how strict our penalties are. 

“The talk of who might be, who might not be (taking drugs), is irresponsible.” 

Tennis Australia president Geoff Pollard dismissed Ilie’s allegations as “pure speculation”. 

“I don’t know why you would call (the allegations) strong, basically they have no evidence,” he said. 

“I’m basically a scientist and a statistician and I work on evidence.” 

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has come to the players’ defence saying the results – the past seven years have returned fewer than 10 positive tests – spoke for themselves. 

The ITF’s Debbie Jevans said more than 120 random drug tests would take place at the Australian Open, of which a proportion would involve blood tests. 

She said any player who refused a test would automatically be banned for two years. – AFP 

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