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Back therapy lands Paszek in doping trouble

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Originally published on: 26/02/10 11:38

Just a week after Richard Gasquet convinced an independent tribunal that “Pamela” was to blame for his failed drugs test back in March, tennis is once again under the spotlight of the anti-doping authorities, with Tamira Paszek the subject of the latest controversy.

The Austrian is being investigated after undergoing medical treatment for a back injury that allegedly violates doping regulations. During the treatment, a sample of her blood was drawn, enriched and re-injected – a process which contravenes international anti-doping rules.

Paszek, currently the word No.59, has struggled with back problems since last season and has not played a match since retiring in the first round of Wimbledon. “I suffered a slipped disc,” explained the Austrian No.2 when the allegations broke on Wednesday. “I was unable to get up in the morning.”

After months spent struggling with the pain, Paszek was convinced that the injury was “slowly getting better now”, and that “the pains are getting less and less with every injection – a good sign.”

But it was not until a reporter alerted her to the possibility that the technique, a form of blood doping, could land her in trouble with WADA and the ITF.

Paszek said she had not been aware that the treatment was possibly illegal, and alerted the Austrian anti-doping agency, which confirmed Thursday that it had launched an investigation into the 18-year-olds therapy methods.

There is little consensus as to whether or not Paszek has a case to answer. Blood doping is typically designed to boost an athlete’s endurance by increasing the volume of red blood cells capable of carrying oxygen to the muscles during competition.

Any such advantage for the Austrian would presumably have been an inadvertent by-product of treatment to an injury.

And while anti-doping expert Hans Holdhaus was unequivocal in his assessment that “as soon as you give blood and re-inject it, it is doping”, he added that it is possible to receive special dispensation to adopt the technique for therapeutic purposes.

But the situation raises the issue of strict liability, the responsibility an athlete undertakes to ensure that they have not broken any doping rules – by accident or otherwise.

Gasquet’s acquittal by the ITF-approved tribunal last week proved there are circumstances that can be taken into account on a case-by-case basis.

However, the result of that hearing is still open to appeal by both the ITF and WADA, who may yet press for the standard one-year (or even a two-year) ban for a first doping offence in an effort to send out a message to potential dopers.

Whether or not Paszek will receive the same treatment remains to be seen.

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