Fri, Jul 17, 2009 - Page 19 News List

Gasquet escapes lengthy doping ban

‘UNUSUAL’ The ITF ruled that the ‘shy and reserved’ player had ingested no more than ‘a grain of salt’ of cocaine when he kissed a woman he had just met at a club

AP , LONDON

French tennis player Richard Gasquet attends Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican on June 10.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Richard Gasquet escaped a lengthy doping ban on Wednesday when the International Tennis Federation (ITF) ruled that he inadvertently took cocaine by kissing a woman in a nightclub.

The 23-year-old Frenchman, who was cleared to resume playing after completing a two-and-a-half-month ban on Wednesday, convinced an independent anti-doping tribunal that he ingested cocaine from kissing the woman he had just met at the club in Miami.

The tribunal panel of three lawyers said Gasquet consumed no more than “a grain of salt” of the drug, and a long ban would be an injustice in a case which was “unusual to the point of being probably unique.”

“We have found the player to be a person who is shy and reserved, honest and truthful, and a man of integrity and good character,” the tribunal said in its ruling. “He is neither a cheat nor a user of drugs for recreational purposes.”

The ITF, which had sought a two-year ban under the terms of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s code, was told to impose a retroactive ban of two months, 15 days. That cleared 32nd-ranked Gasquet to resume playing.

Gasquet will play again “in the next few weeks,” his spokesman Arnaud Lagardere said in a statement.

Gasquet tested positive in a urine sample in March after he pulled out of the Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, with a shoulder injury.

After deciding to withdraw from the tournament he went to a nightclub with friends to see a French DJ perform at a dance music festival in Miami, which the tribunal said was “notoriously associated with use of illegal recreational drugs including cocaine.”

Gasquet told the tribunal hearing held in London last month that he kissed a woman, identified in the ruling only as “Pamela.”

The tribunal said it was likely she had consumed cocaine during the night, though it had no direct evidence. She spent an “excessive” amount of time in the toilet at one club before emerging to kiss Gasquet on the mouth, the player told the hearing.

Gasquet was “on the balance of probability contaminated with cocaine by Pamela” and, therefore, not significantly at fault for the doping offense, the ruling said.

“We take into account that the amount of cocaine in the player’s body was so small that if he had been tested only a few hours later, his test result would be likely to have been negative,” the tribunal said.

Gasquet also argued at the hearing that his positive test was given after he had pulled out of the Key Biscayne tournament.

Cocaine is a banned drug for athletes in competition.

The tribunal said Gasquet’s rights to practice his profession would be infringed by a one-year suspension, though it was required to find that a doping offense was committed.

It added that Gasquet would be banned for life if he tested positive for a banned drug a second time.

The ruling allowed the Frenchman to keep the ranking points and prize money he gained at tournaments in April.

The ITF provisionally suspended Gasquet when the test result was announced in May and he was forced to miss the French Open and Wimbledon. His ranking has since dropped nine places.

■PALERMO OPEN

AP, PALERMO, ITALY

Top-seeded Flavia Pennetta paid back Italian compatriot Roberta Vinci for a crushing loss in April by winning 7-5, 6-1 to reach the Palermo Open quarter-finals on Wednesday.

Seventh-seeded Aravane Rezai of France also won her second-round match, overcoming Varvara Lepchenko of the US 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-2 in just under three hours at Country Time Club.

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