January 18, 2005
DARRELL FRY: Larry Scott, CEO of the WTA Tour, will have some brief opening comments. Then we'll take questions from you all. Also to let you know, we'll have a statement from Svetlana that will be available to you right after this press conference.
LARRY SCOTT: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm sorry to even have to sort of be here in the press room giving any credibility to the story, which doesn't deserve it. The only reason I'm here is because a tremendous injustice has been done to our players and to our sport, and I wanted to sort of clarify the situation and hopefully get the focus back on the tennis here at the Australian Open. One thing I want to make clear is that based on the reports that have come out of Belgium, they're citing ephedrine as the substance for which Svetlana tested positive. I want to make clear that under the tennis Anti-Doping Program, ephedrine is not a banned substance when it's out of competition, so I wanted to just make that clear. What Svetlana was playing in was a two-day charity exhibition during our off-season. This was not a competition. She was doing something for charity during the off-season, and under our Anti-Doping Program, something like that, ephedrine is not a banned substance. The way this has been handled breaches any credible protocol for anti-doping and really undermines the credibility of the tremendous fight that's going on against anti-doping around the world. It's something the WTA Tour and other tennis governing bodies have come together and are incredibly vigilant and serious about a serious fight against anti-doping, and it's acts like this by a government minister, which I think undermine the campaign against anti-doping, which is very, very regrettable, because there's a lot to be proud of in terms of our anti-doping competitions. That's all I wanted to say and clarify beyond the statement that I've made. I'm happy to take any questions that anyone has.
Q. Would you like to see that government minister fired or at least officially sanctioned by the Belgian government?
LARRY SCOTT: I think what he's done is disgraceful. I think he's undermined sport. I think he's undermined sport in Belgium. But it's not for me to say what should happen to him as a result. I know our players would like to see an immediate -- not that it will repair the damage that's been done, but would like to see an immediate apology for the damage that it's done to our sport already and to three great champions and great ambassadors for our sport.
Q. In your years, how many cases like this have you seen?
LARRY SCOTT: I've never seen anything like this, where someone has been just so irresponsible in terms of leaking a story to the press without going through the type of due process that any credible anti-doping program would follow. I mean, our players read about it in the press. No one was contacted. The WTA Tour was not contacted. The ITF was not contacted. The Russian Tennis Federation was not contacted. Tennis Australia was not contacted. We read about a leaked press where this gentleman wanted to make clear that Justine Henin-Hardenne, their national champion, is not implicated but there may be another that is. There are very, very serious efforts being made to pursue drug cheats. And when you see something like this happen, it really undermines everyone's efforts.
Q. The Belgian sports writer first revealed this Saturday, Belgian time. Why has the WTA not been in a position to clarify this until now?
LARRY SCOTT: The first step we took, what we read in the first reports, was that the players and Federations had been contacted, and it referenced the WTA Tour may have been contacted, which obviously I knew we had not been contacted. But our first step was to track down our players, track down the ITF to see if any of that was true. By the time we determined that none of that was true, no one had been contacted. It was Sunday. We could not get in touch with the Belgian ministry ourselves, but put out a statement yesterday explaining what we knew. At that stage, he had simply sort of cast a shadow over the possibility of any one of three players. So we made a very clear and strong statement based on what we knew. Since then we've made several attempts to get in touch with the Belgian minister ourselves. I personally emailed the minister. My office has contacted his office. They still have not given us any information or gotten back to us. So we're dealing without facts. The ITF hasn't received facts. The Federation hasn't received facts. We haven't received facts, yet it's on the front page of the paper here this morning. It's all over the world, reporting on it. It's just shameful what an irresponsible person like this can do to the reputation of a clean sport and three great players.
Q. Is there any legal avenues for Kuznetsova?
LARRY SCOTT: We haven't certainly gotten to that, but I know the players certainly are thinking of that. Certainly we will consult with them about that and look at it ourselves.
Q. What support have you offered the players or what have you said to the players?
LARRY SCOTT: I've been in touch with every one of the players myself. I sat down with a couple of them as recently as a couple hours ago and told them that we still don't have all the facts, but sharing with them what we know, letting them know what we're doing about it, and just making clear we're there to support them.
Q. If Kuznetsova did test positive for ephedrine during competition, what would be the penalty that she would receive anyway?
LARRY SCOTT: Under the tennis Anti-Doping Program, if it had been during the season, after sort of three very important steps, an A sample test, a B sample test, then a review panel review, which could throw something out based on procedure or based on medical exemption, once it goes through those three steps, then it would go to a tribunal, and it could result in anything from a warning up to a one-year suspension, based on circumstances. As you know, or don't know, ephedrine is commonly found in cold remedies. As you'll see in Svetlana's statement she's putting out, and I think it was in line with a (inaudible), she did have a cold and she was taking something for her cold at this charity exhibition.
Q. According to procedure, at what point should an athlete's name be made public?
LARRY SCOTT: Well, according to the Tennis Anti-Doping Program, it would happen after three steps - test of an A sample, test of a B sample, and then an independent review on procedure, any medical exemptions, after the player had been contacted and had a chance to declare if there had been any mitigating issue. At that stage, if it's determined there's a case which is going to a tribunal, then the player name would be released. Our Tennis Anti-Doping Program is modeled after the WADA code, and that's similar to most sports. There's some variations amongst some sports. In this case, based on the press reports, it seems like the A sample was received. The player hadn't even been contacted. There's been no B sample. There's been no review. The story's been leaked. Just to put it in perspective about how far away this procedure is from any credible sort of Anti-Doping Program.
Q. What will you be saying to the Belgian sports minister when you finally speak to him?
LARRY SCOTT: Well, I'll certainly want to understand if there are any facts that I'm not aware of and don't understand. I'll certainly make very clear to him how egregious I think his actions were.
Q. How many drug tests did the WTA run last year?
LARRY SCOTT: We've got a fact sheet. I don't have the information sort of readily available, but it's extensive. Svetlana, as an example, was tested over 10 times last year.
Q. What is your budget for it?
LARRY SCOTT: The total budget is a joint program, as you know, between the WTA Tour, the ITF, and the Grand Slams - actually I don't have a total budget number because I don't know exactly what they spend, but it's a significant, significant investment. There's extensive testing that's going on here I'm sure as we speak.
Q. When did the charity match take place?
LARRY SCOTT: December 18, 19. Right before Christmas.
Q. Do you know if she had been telling those authorities she had been taking something for her cold?
LARRY SCOTT: I don't believe she had.
Q. Have you spoken to Svetlana? How is she coping at the moment?
LARRY SCOTT: Yes, I've spoken to her on several occasions, as recently as this morning. She's very, very disturbed by this. The injustice, here we are at the Australian Open, you know, one of the most important tournaments in the world for the players, and it's a huge distraction. She's getting calls and messages from her friends around the world, "What is this about?" She's reading about herself on the front page, and without merit it appears. She's upset and starting to get angry because she's so distracted. She's here to win tennis matches and this is, from her perspective, completely unfounded. Not just her. I mean, Elena feels the same way. Nathalie feels the same way. It's just a shame.
Q. Did she ask to do her own press conference?
LARRY SCOTT: She's putting out a press statement.
Q. Did she want to do a press conference?
LARRY SCOTT: No, she didn't. She wants to concentrate on tennis.
Q. The Belgian sports minister has said today that he doesn't feel that the leaking of this information in any way affects the presumption of innocence. As you say, she's on the paper. Do you think it does?
LARRY SCOTT: I'll send him the front page of the Herald Sun.
Q. From your point of view, are you confident she doesn't have a case to answer?
LARRY SCOTT: Let me preface it by saying we haven't been presented any of the facts. I'm only going off of the reports. If the reports are true, if he's quoted correctly, it doesn't appear there's going to be anything that comes of this.
Q. Exactly what's the procedure from here? There is an A test, obviously. What happens now?
LARRY SCOTT: Well, we'll have to find out what procedures they've decided to operate under. They're not operating under the WADA model tennis Anti-Doping Programs. We've got to find out what model they think they're operating under. They've said publicly they're not looking to prosecute anything even if it did go through a B sample or additional steps; they would kick it to the Federation to deal with. Which Federation they think they're kicking it to and who would have jurisdiction, you know, is an interesting question. Neither the Russian Federation, the ITF or the WTA had been contacted. We'll obviously take it a step at a time.
Q. Even if it were positive, there are no ramifications for Svetlana?
LARRY SCOTT: If it's out of competition, under our program, there is zero implication.
Q. Are you saying you should have been notified first of all that the Belgian authorities were going to do a drug test? Secondly, what happens if the players had put their hands up and said, "Hang on, this is not official," then contacted you? How do you feel about that?
LARRY SCOTT: Well, I'm not sure if this answers your question, but there's a procedure the players can go through. Had they known there was going to be testing, and had they known the Belgians might view this as competition, the simple step would have been to file something called a TUE, which gets you a pre-clearance for taking something that might be deemed to be a banned substance. In this case I think it would have been a reasonable assumption that since ephedrine, a cold medicine, is not a banned substance when you're not playing in competition, that there was a non-issue. So, yes, I mean, had we known that they were planning on doing testing here, as happens throughout the year, it's not an isolated incident that some governments decide that they want to have jurisdiction at some events in France, in Belgium, other countries around the world, from time to time this happens. But most of the time, it's quite a collaborative discussion, quite a collaborative effort, you know, everyone gets comfortable with sort of one test. You know, none of that happened in this instance. I think this really raises some challenging questions in terms of the global movement against doping. It's one of the reasons why we're committed to working with WADA and having there be a global code - not having sort of individual politicians or jurisdictions just decide that they can rule -- whatever they decide to test for, whatever penalties they want to level and impose. This is the reason why there should be a global code and the reason why sport and government should work together in the fight against anti-doping, just to avoid circumstances exactly like this. And the damage is done.
Q. To that end, have you spoken with Dick Pound, had any back and forth with him?
LARRY SCOTT: Not yet. Our effort has been focused on getting in touch with the Belgian ministry to find out what they're thinking.
Q. How much testing do you do out of competition?
LARRY SCOTT: I don't have the number handy. We'll get you the stats after. Again, there's a lot of testing that's done between the Tennis Anti-Doping Program, the Olympic movement. There's been quite a significant amount out-of-competition.
Q. Talking about serious fines for the Anti-Doping Program. I was told by a player that while in Sydney, all the tennis players had been tested during the Olympic Games. This didn't happen in Athens. Are you aware about that or have you heard? Is it wrong information?
LARRY SCOTT: I hadn't heard that. I had not heard that. I'd be very surprised to learn that.
Q. I was told that nobody has been tested during the Olympic Games in Athens.
LARRY SCOTT: No, I don't know.
Q. I haven't verified. I was trying to.
LARRY SCOTT: I haven't heard that. I'd be surprised.
Q. Getting back to the players and their reputation, how damaging is this longer term for the players concerned?
LARRY SCOTT: I'm hoping that you all will help and that fans will support Svetlana and Elena and Nathalie. You know, this is just wrong. And I'm hoping that with an understanding of the facts, this is going to move off very, very quickly to a credible story and we'll get on and focus on tennis. Long-term, based on that, I don't think there will be any long-term implications. I think people understand this is someone that made a mistake, and hopefully they apologize for it and we move on and there's no long-term effect.
Q. Other than the legal ramifications, is there a place you can go to to officially complain about the procedure that did occur in Belgium?
LARRY SCOTT: I haven't had a chance to sort of, you know, figure out what those steps might be through the government or any international bodies like WADA or the IOC. But that's something we'll be pursuing, I'm sure.
Q. Are you happy with the way ephedrine is characterized, clarified in these terms? Should it be the same out of competition as in competition in terms of its effect and whether it carries a ban or not?
LARRY SCOTT: Well, my understanding is ephedrine is in common cold medicines, over-the-counter cold medicines, but it could also be used as a stimulant. You know, common sense would say, "Why would someone use a stimulant during the off-season?" So from what I understand, I am very comfortable with that, with that judgment, because there's no common-sense reason why a player would want to use a stimulant during the off-season, during a charity match.
Q. But that's exactly what Jacques Rogge wants. He wants testing out of competition to see what sportsmen take during that time, that maybe could help later on. Isn't it a contradiction to what you say?
LARRY SCOTT: Not at all. To be clear, I'm very in favor of out-of-competition testing. The question is, does a stimulant have any benefit to a player when they're not playing in the off-season? I think the answer is a pretty easy, "No, it doesn't." At least that's what the international anti-doping community has come to that conclusion. You asked me if I agree with that, and I do.
Q. How long does the ephedrine stay in the system? Is there any possibility that it could cause an effect at a tournament afterwards?
LARRY SCOTT: My understanding is it's very short-term. I'm sorry, I can't give you a more specific medical answer. But I think it's very short-term.
Q. Has the WTA signed the WADA code?
LARRY SCOTT: No. We are modeled after the WADA code. We are, like a lot of sports, sort of 90% compliant with the WADA code. There are a few nuances that are different for our sport and other sports.
Q. If those things can be fixed over the next few months, will you be signing the WADA code?
LARRY SCOTT: I'm confident that we will eventually be a signatory to the WADA code.
Q. Any sort of time frame?
LARRY SCOTT: Not exactly. You know, I imagine it would certainly be within the next year or two at the latest.
Q. Theoretically, if one of the players had refused to test at exhibition, what could have happened?
LARRY SCOTT: It's really a question for the Belgian authorities. I don't know under what jurisdiction or rules they're operating. I find it highly unusual that there would be testing at a two-day charity exhibition during the off-season. The whole thing is, frankly, a bit bizarre.
Q. Is this the worst that has happened to WTA in the last few years?
LARRY SCOTT: Well, I think this is a very serious topic: anti-doping. For someone to have sort of leaked out information and not sort of follow procedures, I find a very, very serious matter. I find it very damaging, not just for tennis, but for sport and the fight against doping in total. Any other questions? Thank you.
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