April 12, 2024

Open Court

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Two-month ban for Verdasco for inadvertent doping violation (UPDATED)

Longtime ATP Tour player Fernando Verdasco was diagnosed with ADHD many years ago.

There are reports of him discussing it as far back as 2009, and that it was a tough thing to deal with – especially as a young boy.

But for many years (going back to 2017 or possibly earlier), he had a Therapeutic Use Exemption for methylphenidate, which is known commercially as Ritalin.

Except, he forgot to renew his most recent exemption when it expired in May 2021.

Ritalin is a”specified substance” that “is prohibited – in competition only”. So when the 38-year-old Spaniard tested positive for it in a urine sample at a Challenger in Rio last February, that triggered a potential suspension of up to two years.

Nine months later, the case is finally closed.

But Verdasco will only have to serve a two-month suspension, which will expire in Jan. 8, 2023 – just in time for the new season.

The paperwork basically involved applying for a “retroactive TUE” (we’ve seen this before), and he also applied to renew the existing exemption once the positive test came to light.

And that was eventually granted, so the “retroactive TUE” application process was withdrawn.

Fernando Verdasco during qualifying at the 2022 US Open

The wording from the ITIA was as follows:

“The ITIA accepts that the player did not intend to cheat, that his violation was inadvertent and unintentional, and that he bears No Significant Fault or Negligence for it. In the specific circumstances of this case, based on the player’s degree of Fault, the TADP allows for the applicable period of ineligibility to be reduced from two years to two months.”

We’re not sure when the test on Verdasco’s February sample was performed. But Verdasco, currently ranked No. 125, played … 26 tournaments this year after that sample would have been taken, following his second-round loss to Federico Coria in Rio in February.

The release says that Verdasco “voluntarily accepted a provisional suspension after being notified of the charge”. Which seems to mean that Nov. 9 was when he accepted that he had committed the violation and voluntarily accepted the provisional suspension – which ends Jan. 8.

On Nov. 8 or 9, Verdasco retired early in the third set of his second-round match against Henri Laaksonen at a Challenger in Roanne, France.

He’s been playing at a furious pace after starting the 2022 season at No. 170 – 31 tournaments in all.

We efforted on a little more clarity on this extended timeline – not that there’s any indication that Verdasco did anything wrong. But when there is a nine-month period between a positive test and its final resolution, and a player can play 26 events in that time span, it’s worth a little clarity.

More details on Verdasco case

Here’s the full release, provided to us by ITIA.

Verdasco first held a TUE for the Ritalin effective May 8, 2017. It expired four years later on May 8, 2021.

According to the information, Verdasco “underwent periods of injury, surgery, and recovery, and his personal life and tennis activity were adversely impacted by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Verdasco applied for a retroactive TUE after the positive test came to light. He also applied for a “prospective TUE”, which was in essence a “renewal” of the previous one, but not technically so since it had been more than a year since it had elapsed.

The “retroactive” exemption was denied by the ITIA committee. WADA declined to review an appeal of it. and Verdasco went all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to appeal it.

The “prospective” TUE was also denied by the ITIA committee. Verdasaco’s representatives then asked WADA to review the decision. WADA reversed it and granted another TUE, which is effective for four years, from Aug. 24, 2022.

The actual notice from the ITIA to Verdasco was only sent on Nov. 9, which was when Verdasco accepted the two-month suspension.

It was determined that ITIA accepted Verdasco’s version that included “the effects of lockdowns, injury and recovery”, in part because he listed that (expired) TUE on his disclosure form for that Challenger event. And that all those tribulations had “exacerbated” his ADHD.

It also reveals that during some of those challenging periods, Verdasco was not on the medication, on his doctors’ advice.

Some 19 events played with an expired TUE

This paragraph is also kind of interesting. It’s not clear whether there had been any communication in the interim between WADA and Verdasco (I wouldn’t think this was the normal procedure).

And yet, WADA “recommended” that Verdasco apply for a retroactive TUE exemption.

So, we have questions: is this a normal procedure when someone tests positive? Or is it specific to the Ritalin, which might indicate that athletes testing positive for Ritalin is a fairly regular thing. And that it may not be that difficult to get a TUE for it – even after the fact.

Those are just two questions.

It’s noteworthy that Verdasco was out of action for the first three month of the 2021 season, in addition to the stoppage caused by the pandemic in 2020. But he also played … 19 tournaments between the expiration of that TUE in May 2021, and when he finally tested positive for the Ritalin in Feb. 2022. Which is when the fact that he didn’t have a valid TUE finally came to light.

Most of those were at the ATP level. So there’s certainly a disconnect: either he wasn’t taking the Ritalin during that entire period. Or he was, and somehow he never tested positive for it and began taking it again before that Rio event.

So that seems to be rather concerning, if it’s the latter case.

Verdasco also gets a break in that the general rule would be that his results from that tournament in Rio – and the 26 other tournaments he played after that in 2022 – plus the prize money would also be forfeited.

The ITIA determined that the “very specific circumstances” of this case dictated that “fairness requires otherwise”. And so all those results will not be disqualified.

Which is a huge thing, and well worth the tradeoff with a two-month off-season suspension.

All in all, these judgments tend to reveal things that we hadn’t previously known (and, likely, didn’t need to know). But they also tend to leave blanks. And that’s the case here.

ITIA efforting on ADHD TUEs

On Thursday, the Daily Mail posted a story with a comment from ITIA, referring to the TUE applications for ADHD medication.

“The use of ADHD medication is monitored extremely closely and this case demonstrates the importance of players being aware of the rules and processes, the spokesperson told the Daily Mail. “In light of this, we will be contacting all ATP, WTA and ITF players to outline the position of the sport concerning ADHD medication. We want to ensure that those who have the condition and require the medication to function, can do so. However, we also want to make sure that the medication and process are not abused.”

The horse has really left the barn there, though.

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