A day after handing Viktor Troicki an 18-month suspension for refusing to submit a blood sample in Monte Carlo this year, the ITF this released the full hearing of the case, further backing up their decision.
At issue, the 53rd-ranked Troicki asserts that the doping officer, Dr. Elena Gorodilova, assured him several times that it was okay for him not to give a blood sample on April 15. Gorodilova countered saying she made no such inference to Troicki, and the tribunal sided in her favor yesterday.
In a detailed 25-page report made public this morning, Troicki told the tribunal on July 9 in London that since childhood he’s been wary of needles, a condition that makes giving blood very arduous, although he’s submitted blood before without issue.
Prior to and since the events in question, Mr Troicki has had an unblemished drugs testing history. He has given numerous urine samples over the years (he thought around 80) and blood samples on five occasions.
There was clear and convincing evidence that Mr Troicki has suffered since childhood from a phobia of needles (a condition that he had inherited from
his father). In consequence, the giving of blood is something that he faces with trepidation and that induces feelings of panic. He gave evidence that he
fainted while giving blood seven years ago and that he feels unwell for the rest of the day after he has given a blood sample. The statement from
Professor Djukic records that Mr Troicki reported dizziness with vertigo, nausea and chest pain following the taking of blood samples from him in 2007.
Troicki added that he didn’t feel well that day in Monte Carlo. He had just lost to Jarkko Nieminen 6-1, 6-2, a player he had beaten twice before.
Mr Troicki’s explanation for his defeat and for the manner of it was that he had felt dizzy that morning, a feeling which had got worse during the match. Mr Reader (Mr Troicki’s coach) gave evidence that Mr Troicki had described himself as “not feeling well” and “flat” at the end of his pre-match warm up.
Troicki agreed to giving the urine sample, but based on his history with needles and his ill health that day, he requested to not have to submit to the blood test.
According to Troicki, Gorodilova who agreed that Troicki “did not look well; he looked tired and weak”, told him it was okay for him not to take the test, and suggested a letter to the ITF doping head, Dr. Stuart Miller, would help his cause.
In that letter, Troicki wrote:
I was not able to do the blood test today since I was feeling very bad …for the blood test I asked kindly to skip it this time, since I get very dizzy after giving the blood out so even before the test I didn’t feel good, so I felt it would be even worse for my health condition to do it
today. I always did blood tests before, and I do them in the future, but today I was not provide blood sample. Thank you very much in advance for your understanding
Troicki also tried to call Dr. Miller, but those attempts were unsuccessful. He then left the doping station and passed by the ATP office where he enganged a conversation with tour manager Miro Bratoev who questioned Troicki’s assurance that it was okay for him not to take the test. Troicki told him:
I told her that I am feeling dizzy and asked her 5 times if it is OK not to do the blood test and she said it will not be a problem since I am not feeling well. All I needed to do is write an explanation she dictated me. We also tried to call Stuart Miller but something was wrong with the number she gave me.
Meanwhile, Gorodilova was filing her own report to her supervisor, writing:
…he informed us that he was unable to provide the blood sample today due to his health conditions. We said that he must have the blood test. He said that he feels very bad today and could not provide the blood sample, we advised him to contact dr S Miller. We have only fax number, he tried several times, it was not working. We asked to write and explain why he can not provide the blood sample. He signed the BCF and wrote on the separated sheet of paper why he is unable to provide the blood sample….
The next day, April 16, Gorodilova was at the tournament seeking further information. Specifically, she wanted to know if Troicki had sought out treatment for whatever illness was ailing him on the day of the test (the tournament doctor never treated Troicki for any issue). When she met Troicki, he explained that he felt better, and while he did not have any medical certificate of treatment – be it at the tournament or a hospital, which Gorodilova said would have helped his case – he was willing to now submit to the blood test, which he did.
That’s the story. Those were the events.
So did Gorodilova tell Troicki that it was okay for him to skip the test as he contends? The tribunal wasn’t convinced.
Dr Gorodilova was clear in her evidence to us: her response was that this was not a matter upon which she could advise the player …
Whether or not Mr Troicki’s reason for not giving a sample would be regarded as valid by the ITF was not her decision; the ITF would decide this. It was in this context, she told us, that she suggested that Mr Troicki write to the ITF explaining his reasons for not giving blood. He had made a decision that he would not provide a sample; he needed to explain to the ITF why that was so.
Mr Troicki denies that this was Dr Gorodilova’s response to his question. On the contrary, he was adamant in his evidence to us that Dr Gorodilova had
assured him “100%” on four or even five occasions that if he set out his reasons in a letter to the ITF, all would be well. This was in the context of his
having stated to the DCO that he did not want to suffer any sanctions as a result of not giving blood. Dr Gorodilova denies that she gave Mr Troicki any
There were three witness brought forth in the case: a doping assistant, Mr. Gan, called by the ITF; and, Troicki’s coach Jack Reader and the ATP manager Bratoev both called by Troicki. Because the doping assistant wasn’t proficient in English, Gan’s account of the events was given little weight – he couldn’t fully understand the conversations between Gordilova and Troicki.
Reader, who arrived to the scene only when Troicki was writing the letter, had this in support of his player:
In his oral evidence, Mr Reader also stated that he thought at the time that Mr Troicki’s request to speak to Dr Miller was because
“something was not quite sitting with [Mr Troicki]…he was not quite sure, not convinced that everything was going to be ok”. He also made clear that
he had not been present when Mr Troicki had asked Dr Gorodilova whether he could avoid giving blood on that occasion, or when she had given her response.
The tribunal pointed out that Reader did not back up Troicki’s “100%” assurance. They also weren’t “impressed” overall by Reader on the matter.
Troicki’s next witness was Bratoev who recounted the events backing what Troicki had said.
The tribunal then heard from the two primary parties involved.
Gorodilova was a 15-year veteran of anti-doping work in sport and the tribunal found that “As such she is well aware of her responsibilities and the limits of her powers. In particular, she was well aware on 15 April 2013 that it was indeed not her decision (but rather that of the ITF) whether it was open to Mr Troicki to avoid giving blood on that day or whether that avoidance would result in sanctions for an Anti-Doping Rule Violation.”
The tribunal determined she had followed the guidelines and adhered to the rule:
In fact, there is no valid excuse for a DCO not to proceed and collect a sample from the athlete once the athlete has been notified. If an athlete refuses to provide a sample according to the procedures, it is up to the athlete’s international Federation to investigate this as a possible failure to comply…
Troicki then was up, but the tribunal questioned if his account of the events “was in fact accurate. It is very frequently the case that witnesses have persuaded themselves of the truth of what they purport to recall, despite the fact that the truth in reality lies elsewhere.”
Having all the evidence, the tribunal sided with Gorodilova’s statements.
a. She informed Mr Troicki that she could not advise him as to whether his reason for not giving blood was a valid reason, as it was not her
decision, but would be a matter for the ITF to decide.
b. She did not assure Mr Troicki that, if he wrote his reasons in a letter to the ITF, all would be well.
The tribunal also added that Gorodilova never wrote that she had given any assurances to Troicki in any of her correspondences with superiors those two days. And had she given such assurances, why would it be helpful for her to have told Troicki the next day to submit to a sample? If it was 100% certain, as Troicki alleged, for him not to give a sample, then why give one the next day?
When examining Troicki’s defense, the Tribunal found inconsistencies. In particular a letter to the ITF four days later in which Troicki seemed to contradict his “100%” assurance claim:
she had merely stated that “it should be all right” if he wrote as suggested to the ITF. That statement also included the words “I wanted to be 100% sure”. Moreover, as Mr Troicki accepted in evidence before us, he had appreciated at the time that Dr Miller was the one who had to make the decision – i.e. to decide whether Mr Troicki’s conduct and his explanation for that conduct would or would not be regarded as acceptable.
The tribunal again wondered if Troicki was given such “100%” assurance, why was there uncertainty in Troicki’s letter to the ITF?
As for why Troicki had told the ATP manager that it was okay for him not to take the test, a conversation confirmed by Bratoev, the tribunal concluded that Troicki, feeling the effects of whatever was ailing him that day and faced with the prospect of giving blood, misunderstood Gorodilova’s encouragement to write the letter as assurance that all would be well.
the player was feeling ill and dizzy, he was panicked by the thought of giving blood because of his fear of needles and because of the likely adverse physical consequences for him, were the test to go ahead (in particular because he was already feeling unwell). At the same time, he was also well aware of the relevant AntiDoping Rules and needing to ensure that he did not incur any sanction as a result of not giving the required sample. In that highly stressful situation for him, and with his mental faculties impaired by his physical condition, Mr Troicki heard what he felt he needed to hear from Dr Gorodoliva and blanked out anything else.
The tribunal also stated that “Mr Troicki came across to us as someone prone to exaggeration in order to make his point”. Might they have been referring to Troicki’s infamous tirade in Rome?
In their final decision, the tribunal was unable to find “compelling justification” for Troicki’s failure to comply to the blood test.
We find that Mr Troicki both failed and refused to submit to giving blood on 15 April 2013, having been duly notified of his obligation to do so. His failure to give blood is obvious, given that it did not occur. However, we consider that Mr Troicki also by his conduct and his actions evidenced a refusal to give blood as well. Dr Gorodilova was adamant in her evidence that she took the steps that she did (starting with the request for a letter of explanation) because Mr Troicki had made it clear that his mind was made up – he was not prepared to give blood despite her efforts to encourage him to do so.
Player who do not submit to testing are giving two year bans. Taking the circumstances of this situation into account, the tribunal lessened Troicki’s sentence by six months because, they determined, Troicki was not guilty of “Significant Fault or Negligence”.
Troicki, who said both tests (urine and blood) came back negatavie will appeal. And in an emotional statement on his website, Troicki said:
Now I am being charged for refusing to undergo a blood test without justification. This is a real nightmare. I was 100% sure everything was ok, just like my coach Jack Reader who was in the doping control station room with me during at least half of the procedure.
The doping control officer doing the controls was a doctor herself. I asked her and she showed me all her diplomas. She checked me and told me I could skip the test and dictated me the explanation for it. After I left the doping control station I went straight to bed and slept all afternoon. I didn’t see any reason to worry so I didn’t look for any help.
I am destroyed and exhausted. The whole period I have been thinking only about this issue. And it is not over yet, so I can’t really describe it. I am not even angry with the doctor. I believe that maybe she was told by her organization that she made a big mistake letting me go she backed up and tried to save her job.
[Novak Djokovic] said that he is sure it will end good because I am innocent, and that ATP should really back me up with this.
I feel like I am being treated like a criminal and I have not committed anything at all. I have a fear of the needle and I always have troubles drawing blood. But I always did. I am clean and will always be clean throughout my career. I just had the wrong doctor who didn’t tell me at all that I was risking anything. She showed me a letter of the ITF saying she is in charge of the decisions and I trusted her completely. I wish I had recorded the discussion, there would have never been a case if I did.
I am 100% sure that the court of arbitration in Lausanne will consider my good faith and my total innocence. But now, this enormous sanction makes me speechless. It feels like the world that I help building day by day has let me down. It is the worst feeling you can imagine.
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