Dan Evans, the British tennis player, has been banned from tennis for one year after testing positive for cocaine. He will be eligible to compete again on 24th April 2018. Many pundits, players and observers expected a longer sentence after Evans revealed that he had tested positive for the recreational drug. However, the ITF accepted his testimony according to which he took a small amount of cocaine out of competition on 20th April, and then put the leftover drugs in a pocket of his wash bag where it contaminated some permitted medication he was taking.
Evans has always been a talented player and has a career high ranking of #41 but his commitment has been questioned. He has had quite a controversial career, having had his funding stopped twice by the Lawn Tennis Association for attitude and behaviour problems. In a statement following the decision, Evans said “I want to thank everyone who has supported me throughout this difficult period. I am determined to return to the sport I love and compete at the level I know I can in the not too distant future”.
Did Dan Evans get off lightly?
Many think that Evans has got off lightly with only a one year ban particularly as he has had his ban backdated by the International Tennis Federation to the time of the positive test. He will still only be 27 years old when he returns to the game on 24th April, 2018. The maximum penalty available for the offence was four years. But as Evans had not sought to gain a competitive advantage, most commentators expected he would be banned from the sport for two years. That is in line with Martina Hingis’s ban following a positive test in 2007.
Some commentators, including Andrew Castle and John Lloyd, suggested that Evans had thrown his career away and must have therefore expected a much longer suspension. It also has to be noted that cocaine is a class A drug. Evans admission that he was taking the drug for recreational purposes does at least mean he has not been accused of cheating. But it was a serious offence even under such circumstances. The backdating of his ban to the time of the positive test is also a help to Dan Evans, though it is also standard practice. Were it to be from the time of the decision, he would be out of action until October next year.
Hard done by?
Few have expressed this view and Evans himself has waived his right to appeal the verdict but an argument could be put forward that the ban was a harsh one for several reasons. The test results revealed that Evans ingested a tiny amount of the drug – between one and three milligrams on April 24th, the date of the test. The ITF also said in their statement that they accepted inadvertent contamination was to blame for the positive test and added that Evans bore “no significant fault or negligence”. In light of this and given that the ITF accepted Evans’s version of events, perhaps the punishment was not as lenient as it first appeared. Moreover, the finding of guilt is already a stain on his reputation and therefore, perhaps a three to six month ban would have been more appropriate.
The ITF appear to be sending out mixed messages. On the one hand, they want to send a message to deter players from taking drugs. That is why some of the bans have been lengthy, such as the punishment initially meted out to Maria Sharapova. On the other hand, they have shown leniency in this case and in others with Dan Evans apparently getting off lightly. This is confusing for the players and spectators and certainly not good for the game. This is not the first time the ITF have come under fire for their anti-drug policies, and its a black mark against tennis that the sport doesn’t need. A clearer, and firmer, drug policy is surely essential on the part of the ITF moving forward.
Hopes for a comeback?
Given his age and recent statement, it seems certain that Dan Evans will return to the game. His ranking will inevitably plummet given his absence from the game but this is not something that should worry Evans unduly as he is capable of returning to the heights he occupied prior to the suspension. But this is surely Dan Evans last chance. He already has a damaged reputation and for many in the game this is already the last straw. What the future will hold for him on his return is unclear. But hopefully he will spend the remainder of his ban reflecting on the disappointing choices that led him to this position.
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