Doping in tennis: thinking the unthinkable

Rafa NadalAndy Murray calls for stricter anti-doping measures for tennis. This is news partly an aftershock from the Lance Armstrong case in cycling. It raises an alternative explanation for near super-human endurance feats of top tennis players from time to time

[Updated March 2015]

News stories sometimes reveal a series of earlier incidents which seem to be connected. The antecedents are not necessarily causes. Take this week’s story of doping in tennis. Doping has made headlines in recent weeks [Jan 2012] over the downfall of Lance Armstrong, one of the biggest names in cycling. The entire sport risks pariah status if it cannot be seen to have taken steps to clean up its act. A more recent cycling icon, Bradley Wiggins, speaks up for the clean cyclists who feel that Armstrong has diminished their achievements.

The trigger event

The time is ripe for a follow-up story. What might be needed is a trigger event. Then the news that Andy Murray calls for improved drug testing for Tennis. But the trigger event may have been the arrest of Eufemiano Fuentes, a Spanish doctor, on charges of multiple doping offenses.

The breaking news suggests he will be tried specifically for doping on behalf of cyclists. It has also been claimed that the evidence extends to malpractice in other sports with Fuentes acknowledging in court that his treatment list included footballers, athletes, cyclists, a boxer and tennis players.

Drugs in tennis?

I was puzzled at the prominence given to Murray’s non-story, about non-testing for drugs in Tennis. It was another dog that didn’t bark in the night. Now it seems that the media may have had wind of the Spanish drug story.

Superhumans or superdrugs

Now the near super-human feats of top players are being re-examined tested through the bias for a pharmacological explanation. And if you are a top Spanish player, the ‘evidence’ may make wrong-doing by players and coaches a simple conclusion to reach.

For club players

Some club tennis players I know have been favouring the presence of super drugs over super beings in recent years. There will be more unsubstantiated rumours and names going viral, in the absence of hard facts. Andy Murray has spoken up, [Feb 2012], and will risk the taint of guilt by association. Rafael Nadal will be even more vulnerable, being incredibly muscular, exceptionally physically resilient yet prone to injury time outs … and Spanish.

Truth, fiction, and social media

There is an important issue emerging here. It may eventually be another example of the need for hard evidence in a world of social media. It does suggest a mechanism through which an item hits the headlines and becomes news. As such, it offers lessons for students of leadership.


March 2016:  Rafa Nadal hits out at accusations about his drug taking. He is particularly incensed about comments made by a French politican attributing one of his lengthy layoffs to some drug related issue

2 Responses to Doping in tennis: thinking the unthinkable

  1. […] Doping in tennis: thinking the unthinkable ( […]

  2. Davin says:

    I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised. If you’re a world-class athlete, your suspect to me! 🙂

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