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Does Tennis Pro Viktor Troicki's Doping Ban Go Too Far?

Viktor Troicki signing autographs at PTT Thailand Open 2009; photo courtesy of Government of Thailand, used under Creative Commons 2.0 License.

Viktor Toricki signing autographs at PTT Thailand Open 2009; photo courtesy of Government of Thailand, used under Creative Commons 2.0 License.

A Serbian world-class tennis player who was suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for missing a standard doping test earlier in 2013 was banned from entering a Belgrade arena to cheer on his teammates in the Davis Cup finals, a move that has caused fans to question the fairness of the sport's anti-doping system. 

Viktor Troicki first received an 18-month suspension from competing in any events for his missed doping test, but fought the charges, citing that he had already given a urine sample that tested negative for banned substances. He succeeded in having the penalty reduced to 12 months in early November, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport stated that there was no indication that Troicki “intended to evade the detection of a banned substance in his system.” 

The young tennis pro was also banned from attending matches, including the Davis Cup semi-finals that the Serbian national team played in September, while his appeal was still under investigation.

A New York Times special report [en] summarized the events and added some interesting insight:

Initially suspended for 18 months by the International Tennis Federation, Troicki had his penalty reduced on appeal to one year by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last week. But that qualified victory still feels like defeat to him, and his case has generated a range of strong opinions at the top of the game, with Andy Murray and Roger Federer expressing support for the antidoping system in tennis and Troicki’s close friend and teammate Novak Djokovic bitterly ripping into it.

However, even after the suspension was reduced and the investigation against him officially closed, Troicki was again banned from attending the Davis Cup finals [sr], which took place in Kombank Arena in Troicki's hometown of Belgrade on November 15, 2013. The Serbian Tennis Federation (TSS) decided to support the ITF's decision fully by banning Troicki from entering the arena even as a spectator with a paid ticket, which Troicki was planning to do in support of his teammates who were playing in the finals that evening. Some media sources even claim that the TSS distributed photos of Troicki to Kombank Arena security and at the doors to make sure the tennis player was recognized and not allowed to enter with or without a ticket.

Regardless of the suspension and doping charges, or the personal opinions of Troicki's colleagues, fans are now questioning whether both the International and the Serbian Tennis Federation have the legal right to limit one's physical movement in this manner. Many on social networks, discussion boards and in comments on online articles regarding this matter are accusing the ITF and TSS of having broken basic civil rights laws when they banned Troicki from attending the match as a spectator from the bleachers along with other fans.

Dejan Nikolić, a journalist and founder of the popular Serbian satirical news site Njuz.net, posted a public comment on the matter on his Facebook profile:

Fascinantna mi je ova situacija, ako je tacno, gde Troickom biva ograniceno kretanje kao gradjaninu zato sto ga je neka sportska organizacija suspendovala. Mislim da je to pitanje za ustavni sud, Strazbur i jos pokoju instituciju za ljudska i gradjanska prava.

Jedna je stvar ne dozvoliti da ucestvuje na turnirima, sasvim druga ogranicavati slobodu kretanja.

I find this situation fascinating, if true, in which Troicki's movement as a citizen is being limited because he was suspended by a sports organization. I think this is a matter for the Constitutional Court, Strasbourgh and a few other institutions for human and civil rights.

It's one thing to not allow him to participate in tournaments, entirely another to limit his freedom of movement.

Among the 52 comments on Nikolić's post, there were those who cited that ITF rules state that players who are penalized by the organization are also banned from any related tournaments and sporting events. Most commenters, however, questioned how the ITF or any other sports organization could have the authority to ban anyone, including sanctioned players, from purchasing a ticket and attending such events as a citizen.

Similar comments can be found on online articles in several other languages, and it isn't just Serbian tennis fans who are complaining and noting the same thing. In response to a short article on Italian tennis portal LiveTennis.it with the news that Troicki was not allowed to enter Belgrade's Kombank Arena as a spectator, reader Francis said:

allora ne dico un’altra di scemenza ribattendoti che quanto dici mi pare molto strano… nel senso che l’atp o l’itf o la federazione serba possono non considerare valido il pass da addetto ai lavori e vietare l’accesso ai settori a loro destinati; vietare l’ingresso con regolare biglietto pagato vorrebbe dire una palese limitazione della libertà individuale.

Now they say more complete nonsense that when said seems very strange to me – in the sense that the ATP or ITF or Federation of Serbia could consider a pass not valid and prohibit access to areas they are intended for, prohibit entry with a regular paid ticket would mean blatant limitation of individual freedom.

Another reader on the same article, Andy86, added:

Francamente mi pare una cosa veramente che non sta ne in cielo ne in terra… lui è squalificato piu o meno giustamente (non sta a me dirlo) per quello che riguarda la sua attività agonistica, ma che ora non lo facciano entrare allo stadio, mi pare veramente fuori dal mondo..

Frankly one thing strikes me that truly isn't in the heavens nor the earth – he was disqualified more or less justly (it's not up to me to say) for things regarding his sports activities, but now to not allow him to enter the stadium, it strikes me as truly out of this world..

Neither the ITF nor the Serbian Federation have responded to the questions raised by the public, nor have they made any statements as to what might give them the authority to ban any player from purchasing a ticket for a tennis event and not be able to use it as a spectator.

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