Gasquet cleared to resume playing
LONDON -- Richard Gasquet escaped a lengthy doping ban Wednesday when the International Tennis Federation's tribunal panel 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 2½-month ban on Wednesday, convinced the independent anti-doping tribunal that he ingested cocaine with the kiss with the woman he had just met.
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 that 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 2 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, Fla., with a shoulder injury.
After deciding to withdraw from the tournament he went to a nightclub in Miami with friends to see a French DJ perform at a dance music festival, which the tribunal noted 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.
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 stated.
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 also noted 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.
The ruling can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport within three weeks.
Five-time Grand Slam champion Martina Hingis also tested positive for cocaine, after losing at Wimbledon in 2007, and was banned for two years.
Hingis denied taking the drug but did not appeal the ruling and immediately announced her retirement when the test result was revealed in November 2007. She is eligible to resume her career after the ban ends on Sept. 30, her 29th birthday.
Like Hingis, Gasquet was also tipped for stardom as a teen but failed to follow the Swiss champion by quickly fulfilling his potential.
Gasquet won his first matches on the ATP Tour as a 15-year-old and his ranking peaked at No. 7 after reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2007, when he lost to Roger Federer.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press