The International Tennis Federation announced today that Marin Cilic has been suspended from the sport for nine months after testing positive for the banned stimulant nikethamide.
As previously reported, Cilic tested positive while competing in the Munich tournament at the beginning of May.
(Note: Some of the details in the rest of this post are taken from early reports that turn out to be inaccurate. See my analysis of the ITF tribunal’s full decision, which contains a more authoritative enumeration of the facts.)
Cilic says he sent a member of his team to buy a glucose supplement at a local pharmacy, and that this product was the source of the nikethamide. The product’s package reportedly warned professional athletes not to take it, but Cilic didn’t read the warning.
It’s not entirely clear yet exactly which product Cilic used. The ITF describes it as “Coramine glucose tablets”. But “Coramine” is an English-language brand name for nikethamide, not for glucose, which is merely a simple sugar. There are many products that contain both nikethamide and glucose, and in some countries these are available without a prescription. One such product, aggressively marketed in Germany, is Gly-Coramin, whose name makes it plausible to mistake it for a simple glucose supplement. However, its package says in German, French, and Italian that it “provides energy and stimulates respiration and circulation”. (Cilic trained for years in Italy and now lives in Monaco, where the official language is French.) Gly-Coramin’s Swiss-German website lists “Nikethamid” as the first active ingredient.
Because the ITF’s independent tribunal believed Cilic’s claim that he ingested the nikethamide unintentionally, it reduced his suspension from the standard two years for a first such offense to only nine months. The suspension is backdated to begin on May 1, the date Cilic submitted the positive sample, and lasts through January 31, 2014. Cilic forfeits his results, ranking points and prize money from Munich and the subsequent tournaments he played before accepting a voluntary provisional suspension: Madrid, Rome, Roland Garros, Queen’s Club, and Wimbledon. The loss of these points will cause Cilic’s ranking to fall to approximately #37 next week.
During the week of Munich, Cilic was ranked #11 in the world, making him the highest-ranked player to be suspended for an anti-doping offense since Martina Hingis in 2008.
Many fans and pundits have demanded that the ITF be quicker to publicly share information on positive tests and doping investigations. Four and a half months have passed since Cilic’s positive test, and a month and a half since the investigation was first revealed through anonymously sourced press reports. However, the case of Chris Horner makes it clear why, to limit its liability and the potential for hasty, inaccurate accusations, the ITF doesn’t comment on investigations until they are complete and its tribunal has made an official decision. Horner, an American cyclist who just won the prestigious Vuelta a España, is threatening to sue the sport’s anti-doping authorities after they allegedly leaked an accusation that he missed a doping test during the race. According to Horner, the testers looked for him at the wrong hotel because they failed to access his updated whereabouts information.