You probably knows the basics of the Robert Kendrick story by now. The ITF press release has been rehashed by several hundred media outlets; churnalism at its finest.
The 31-year-old American tested positive for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine (MHA) at Roland Garros after taking a tablet to combat jetlag.
The ITF accepted his claim that there was no intent to enhance performance – the treatment of jet-lag in legal terms being classed in the same vein as “hydrating before a marathon”.
There was an outpouring of sympathy on twitter from tennis journalists and Amer Delic pointed out that the sentence seems harsh when compared with the eight months that Wayne Odesnik served after being caught entering Australia with vials of HGH.
After sifting through the 27-page legal document released by the ITF Tribunal it’s hard to have any sympathy for Kendrick.
At best, he’s a complete idiot.
Richard Ingham of the Sunday Times tweeted me: “Do you want to be prevented from working for a year for the next mistake you make? You like the bar that high?”
Even if we accept that Kendrick did not knowingly dope, he made far more than a single mistake. He made a whole catalogue of them. In this case the bar isn’t really that high at all.
The saga begins as follows.
With Kendrick’s fiancée heavily pregnant in the lead up to Roland Garros, he wanted to leave his journey to Europe as late as possible.
Given that he had suffered from jetlag before, he discussed the issue with his coach Richard Schmidt as well as Jim Rich, another coach at the Winter Park Racquet Club in Florida where Kendrick trains.
Rich then gave Kendrick a “trial sized sample packet” of a product called Zija XM3 and according to the player, assured him that it was “an all-natural and organic product from the Moringa tree.”
Not completely satisfied with Rich’s assurances, Kendrick then claims to have spent an hour researching the product on the internet.
Although he failed to find a complete list of ingredients, he found a blog-style site that said the product was WADA approved.
Shortly after his arrival in France on May 20 he took the drug. A few hours later he took a sleeping medication called Ambien.
Two days later he lost to Guillermo-Garcia Lopez in the first round and afterwards submitted a urine sample, which tested positive for the banned stimulant.
Upon hearing he had tested positive, Kendrick accepted a voluntary suspension and withdrew from Wimbledon.
In cases where the authorities accept that there was no intention to enhance performance, “the task for the members of the tribunal is to decide where, within the range of 0 to 24 months, the athlete’s degree of fault takes them.”
Kendrick argued for a three month suspension, back dated to the start of Roland Garros – arguing for a reduced sentence on the basis of his attempts to establish that the drug contained nothing illegal.
However, the Tribunal had several problems with Kendrick’s testimony.
One issue was the apparent contradiction between Kendrick’s written affidavit and his oral evidence (which was given to the tribunal via video link).
During his oral testimony, Kendrick claimed to have discussed the Zija with Schmidt given that neither of them were familiar with the drug.
Yet neither mentioned such conversations in their affidavits which led the ITF to conclude that they were “not satisfied that the conversations to which we have referred above in fact took place.”
Secondly, there was the issue of his internet search. Dr Stuart Miller, the ITF’s anti-doping manager testified that it was possible to find a list of Zija XM3 ingredients simply by conducting a Google search for “Zija XM3 ingredients” – a search term Kendrick never claimed to enter.
The Tribunal also pointed out that the blog page Kendrick cited, which claimed the drug was WADA approved, should have been immediately suspect to the player since it incorrectly referred to the “World Anti-Doping Association”.
According to the Tribunal, such an experienced pro should have known that the second A in WADA stands for “Agency”
Summing up Kendrick’s attempts to establish the legality of the drug, the Tribunal said:
“We are unable to accept Mr Kendrick’s evidence that he tried to find an ingredients list for Zija during his internet research. It is our conclusion that this would have involved a degree of endeavour…which Mr Kendrick was not prepared to undertake.”
The Tribunal was also suspicious of Kendrick’s inability to provide evidence of his internet search and his claim that he deleted his browser history regularly. (They have obviously never used the internet and I’m guessing Kendrick’s browser contains a whole host of sites he wouldn’t want his fiancée to stumble upon.)
The most damning argument against Kendrick relates to the actual doping test he took in Paris.
As part of the test Kendrick was required to fill out a form detailing “any prescription/non-prescription medication or supplements, including vitamins or minerals, taken over the past 7 days.”
He failed to list either the Zija or the Ambien.
His argument that he generally only listed what was “in his system” is quite bizarre and why he would assume to be an expert on the half-life of any medication is anyone’s guess.
The Tribunal wording here is interesting: “At best, this was further evidence of an inappropriately relaxed approach by Mr Kendrick to his doping responsibilities.”
The Tribunal also pointed out the obvious: that Kendrick never consulted a physician over either his jetlag issues or the Zija, and had instead accepted a drug from someone grossly unqualified to offer medical advice or dispense medication.
They also emphasised that the anti-doping wallet cards issued to players include the number of a hotline they can ring for issues on medication and that Kendrick could have rang the number had he been unsure.
Kendrick admitted to receiving the wallet cards in the past but said he threw them away (just as he said 95% of players did).
One important issue emphasised throughout by the tribunal was the fact that as a pro of 11 years, Kendrick should have no excuse for such negligence.
Referring to the length of sentence, the Tribunal said:
“We were particularly concerned that such a cavalier approach to doping responsibilities should have been taken by an athlete of Mr Kendrick’s experience.
“His conduct was not wilful, but it was culpably negligent, if not reckless.”
They also refer to his experience in the context of setting an example for younger players:
“Had he been a newcomer to the professional circuit, his conduct would have been more excusable.
“Senior tennis professionals should be assiduous in setting the highest of standards in relation to their doping responsibilities in order to set appropriate examples for those new to the profession to follow. Mr Kendrick did quite the opposite.”
The Tribunal also admitted that part of the consideration for the sentence was a desire to “send a message” to other pros and said that in their view, “a Period of 12 months achieves this; a shorter Period would not.”
For anyone who would like to get deeper into the case law precedents regarding suspensions for MHA, feel free to read the document. I’ve gone on for long enough and only intended to provide a brief outline of the proceedings.
Looking at the details of the case, it’s not a simple matter of Kendrick “making a mistake” as is the impression given by the news articles that basically re-wrote the ITF’s press release.
At best, Kendrick made a series of idiotic decisions from start to finish.
At worst, he knowingly tried to hide the drug when he filled out the form prior to his test at Roland Garros hoping it wouldn’t show up in his sample, then lied to the Tribunal afterwards.
The lenience afforded to Wayne Odesnik will present problems for every lesser doping infraction that crops up in tennis from now on, but taking this case in its own right, a 12 month suspension for Kendrick seems entirely reasonable.