On January 22, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) banned South African wheelchair tennis athlete Lucas Sithole from all forms of competition for two years under the Anti-Doping Rule Violation of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme. Sithole was not found guilty of doping but did miss several drug tests.
Under the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme rules, players are required to be available for one hour every day to allow for unannounced out-of-competition tests. The ban was instated because Sithole missed three drug tests in 12 months. In its announcement, the ITF confirmed that his results between June 2019 and September 2019 are not disqualified as there is no suggestion that his results were affected by any doping practices.
Sithole admitted to the charge and stated that family emergencies were the reasons for his unavailability. The suspension took effect from September 2019, the date on which he last competed. That means Sithole will be eligible to return to competition in September 2021.
Commenting on behalf of the ITF, Richard Glover, CEO of Tennis South Africa, said: “We take a zero-tolerance policy towards such matters and so we fully support the ITF’s decision. That being said, there is a human element and we acknowledge our responsibilities in this area.
“We will be providing Sithole with a support programme during the period of his suspension. We are also in the process of implementing a more rigorous management structure for our high-performance athletes – including our wheelchair tennis athletes – to ensure they fully understand and adhere to all aspects of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme.”
The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) also commented on the ruling. “This decision comes at a crucial time, with seven months to go to Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games,” said Barry Hendricks, acting president of SASCOC. “Lucas Sithole has performed well over the years and it is disheartening that he will not be competing in any competition for the next two years.
“As the National Paralympic Committee we have met with Tennis South Africa and are encouraged by its support programme during the period of his suspension,” he added. SASCOC further urges all athletes to adhere to the anti-doping rules and emphasises the integral role federations play in educating athletes on the subject.
Players who are included in the ITF’s International Registered Testing Pool (IRTP) are required to provide certain specified information about their whereabouts so that they can be contacted for testing.