RTF's Tarpishchev accuses Eerdekens of bias

Updated: January 18, 2005, 9:08 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The Belgian official who announced that U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova failed a drug test insisted Tuesday that he did the right thing, but the Russian Tennis Federation president accused him of bias.

Svetlana Kuznetsova

Claude Eerdekens, the sports minister for Belgium's French-speaking south, said the Russian player should have said there was a medical reason for her using the stimulant ephedrine, in which case her test at an offseason charity event wouldn't have been declared positive.

"I will never offer an apology," Eerdekens told Reuters in a telephone interview. "This product is banned, and it is up to her to explain why it is there."

"I did my duty. All of my duty," he told The Associated Press. "International tennis should be happy that we try to show that tennis is a clean sport. I plead with the tennis authorities to play the card of transparency."

RTF president Shamil Tarpishchev accused Eerdekens of bias Tuesday.

"What he has done is beyond any ethical norms accepted in the civilized sporting community," Tarpishchev told Reuters. "He not only wrongly accused one of our top tennis players. By doing it, he also slandered the whole of Russia."

Tarpischev's anger echoed earlier comments by WTA Tour CEO Larry Scott, who criticized Eerdekens for linking Kuznetsova to a positive doping test before full procedures were completed.

"In all my years in sports, I have never seen a more disgraceful and irresponsible act by a sports official," Scott said from Melbourne on Tuesday.

"I tell Mr. Scott: Play with open books, and if your athletes -- who I admire for their quality and courage -- are beyond reproach, then don't make such a big deal out of this," Eerdekens said.

"For the tennis federation, the good reaction would be to say: Let's cooperate with public authorities in all countries to eliminate doping," he added.

"If this is the conception of sport at the highest level ... there is something rotten in the world of sport," Eerdekens said.

Kuznetsova, who is ranked No. 5, said she's certain she will be exonerated, and Scott said he doubts the player will be penalized. In fact, she was absolved of any offense because ephedrine is not banned when taken out of competition.

The absolution did not stop Kuznetsova from expressing her outrage for being implicated in a doping scandal.

The Russian, who will face France's Marian Bartoli in a second-round match Wednesday at the Australian Open, said she did nothing wrong by taking some medicine to fight a cold during the tournament. Ephedrine is a stimulant found in over-the-counter cough and cold remedies, as well as in asthma remedies and weight-loss pills.

"There is absolutely no reason why I would take a stimulant to enhance my performance at an out-of-competition exhibition match in the middle of the offseason," Kuznetsova said. "What is true is that at the time of the exhibition match in question, I did have a cold and was taking a cold medicine."

Tarpishchev dismissed the notion that Eerdekens' remarks were simply inadvertent and ill-advised.

"No, this is not a simple mistake or feckless chatter. He is liable for moral damages and defamation," he said, adding that the RTF was considering filing a legal suit against Eerdekens.

"We'll wait for a written response from the WTA and the ITF before deciding what action to take. We certainly retain the right to go to court."

Tarpishchev also was angry at Eerdekens for not advising tennis officials before going public.

Eerdekens said the news should not have come as a surprise to Kuznetsova. "Her trainer was in contact with us before we published her name," he said.

He added that Kuznetsova had not told the people doing the doping test that she was taking medication for a cold.

"She should have declared it at the time of the test, but she didn't do it," he said.

Under Belgian law, doping tests can be conducted at any time, including training sessions and exhibition tournaments.

The University of Ghent, which is accredited by the International Olympic Committee, analyzed the samples from the doping test.

Eerdekens told Belgian media over the weekend that a player failed a doping test at the Dec. 18-19 Women's Tennis Trophy exhibition tournament in Charleroi. He didn't say which player or what the substance was.

Only four players participated in that event, and Eerdekens said he decided to identify Kuznetsova on Monday to prevent the other three -- Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne, Frenchwoman Nathalie Dechy and Elena Dementieva of Russia -- from being tainted.

"So the situation was exceptional, and so was the measure," he said.

Tarpishchev said Eerdekens' words were clearly biased, aimed at diminishing Russia's leading role in the sport.

"Just look at the Melbourne scoreboard. It's Russia 18, Belgium 0," he said, referring to 18 Russian players -- 14 women and four men -- reaching the second round at the Australian Open.

Only two Belgians, brothers Olivier and Christophe Rochus, won their opening matches at the first grand slam of the year.

"I think it's a Russia allergy, [Eerdekens] is simply allergic to our success in tennis," Tarpishchev said.

Russian women had a phenomenal year in 2004, sweeping the last three Grand Slam singles titles and taking over the game from Belgians Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters.

The two Belgians had been ranked 1-2 in the world just 12 months ago but have since struggled with injuries and illnesses.

Tarpishchev, who is also a member of the IOC, said he would discuss Eerdekens' position with IOC president and fellow Belgian Jacques Rogge.

"I'll certainly mention it to the President at the next IOC session," said Tarpishchev.

"I want to get to the bottom of it, to know [Eerdekens'] role in this whole affair. How he knew about test results even before the international and national federations had been notified and why this information was leaked to the media."

Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.