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Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Updated: June 9, 6:09 PM ET
Call Gasquet what you will, but he's not a cheater


When the news hit that Richard Gasquet tested positive for cocaine, he released a statement to the press professing his innocence. He says he's gathering evidence to show that he didn't do cocaine, and will tell us more at a later date. Now the Frenchman, who faces a two-year ban if found guilty, must summon the will to go up against his toughest opponent ever -- the anti-doping machine.

Good luck. The prospect of trying to beat the system was enough to send Martina Hingis into early retirement. She, too, tested positive for cocaine, in 2007, but decided that spending endless hours and countless money on her defense was simply not worth it. That, of course, is enough to lead some to believe that Hingis was guilty. And what about Gasquet? Was the test botched? Is he a cokehead? Did he drink out of the wrong cup at a party, as Marat Safin has alluded to?

Unfortunately, the debate is misplaced. As a sport, we shouldn't be concerned with whether or not Gasquet took cocaine. We should be asking ourselves if it's fair that a player be banned from professional tennis for doing recreational drugs.

The answer should be a resounding "no."

First of all, the drug policy should be designed to prevent players from gaining an unfair competitive advantage. Juicing up to speed recovery and develop Superman-esque powers is cheating. Taking recreational drugs is not. Doing cocaine (or pot, or any other recreational drug) is more likely to hurt your chances on the court. On the other hand, you could make the case that pot should be banned from competition -- if your competition revolved around eating. No one wants to go into a hot dog eating contest against an opponent with the munchies. But pounding a bag of Cheetos before a tennis match is going to do you no favors.

And is it fair that Gasquet could be sent off tour for two years? Consider the penalties of other anti-doping cases that involved either a performance-enhancing substance or a masking agent. In 2001, Guillermo Coria tested positive for the steroid nandrolone and served a seven-month sentence. Soon after, Mariano Puerta tested positive for clenbuterol, an anti-asthma medication that's also an anabolic agent. He was suspended for nine months. A year later, he tested positive for the stimulant etilefrine and was suspended for eight years, though the punishment was reduced to two years after he claimed he inadvertently drank water from his wife's glass, which he said was tainted. In 2005, testers found the masking agent hydrochlorothiazide in Guillermo Canas' system and suspended him for two years (the sentence was eventually reduced to 15 months). In 2006, Karol Beck was suspended for two years when he was caught with clenbuterol in his system.

Then there's Diego Hipperdinger. In 2004, he was suspended for two years for cocaine. In 2005, Simon Larose retired after receiving the same punishment.

It is absurd that players who've been found guilty of taking performance-enhancing drugs or agents to mask them are given suspensions on par with those pros who've taken recreational drugs. The sport should be after cheats, not players who like to party.

If the sport is so hell-bent on prosecuting players for taking drugs of virtually any kind, why isn't alcohol on the list of banned substances? It's every bit the drug, but no one in their right mind would want to suspend someone for having three fingers of Glenlivet. And if a player shows up on the show court completely hungover and still wins his match, you know what? More power to him.

In the meantime, we'll have to watch Richard Gasquet fight the good fight as the cogs in our sport's anti-doping machinery grind away.