Gasquet cleared of wrongdoing

French tennis player Richard Gasquet was cleared of any wrongdoing

Thursday when the Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted his claim

that he tested positive for cocaine by kissing a woman in a

nightclub.

The CAS dismissed appeals by the World Anti-Doping Agency and

International Tennis Federation, which wanted Gasquet banned for up

to two years.

“I’m absolutely relieved. This is the end of a crazy story,”

Gasquet said. “I’m happy to be 100 percent cleared.”

The court in Lausanne accepted Gasquet’s claim that he

inadvertently consumed cocaine by kissing the woman in a Miami club

hours after withdrawing injured from a tournament in March.

“It was impossible for the player, even when exercising the

utmost caution, to know that in kissing a woman who he had met in a

totally unsuspicious environment, he could be contaminated with

cocaine,” the court said in a statement.

A CAS panel of three lawyers said the quantity of the drug in

Gasquet’s urine test was “minute” and the 23-year-old Frenchman was

“clearly not a regular cocaine user.”

“The possibility of contamination became the most plausible

explanation,” CAS said.

Gasquet’s coach, Eric Deblicker, told the Eurosport Web site

that the case has been hard on the French player over the last few

weeks.

“This is a huge relief, mostly for Richard and for the people

close to him,” Deblicker said. “The most important thing now is to

see him enjoying on the court.”

The verdict was greeted with dismay by WADA and the ITF, the

sport’s world governing body.

“WADA considered that the evidence warranted full and total

scrutiny,” director-general David Howman said in a statement. “WADA

abides by the CAS ruling and has no further comment at this stage.”

ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti said the federation was

“disappointed” with the court’s ruling.

“The ITF also recognizes the potential implications of the

CAS decision with respect to future decisions and will discuss

these with WADA,” he said.

The 23-year-old Gasquet served a 2 1/2-month suspension

before an independent ITF tribunal cleared him to resume his career

in July.

It ruled he was not to blame because the woman — identified

only as “Pamela” — contaminated him with cocaine hours before the

drug test.

CAS said that ban should not count as a doping offense on

Gasquet’s record, even though he had not appealed against it.

Athletes who commit two doping offenses face a life ban from

their sport.

WADA and the ITF appealed to CAS because they believed

Gasquet should be held to the strictest standards of the WADA Code,

which makes athletes responsible for any substance found in their

body.

They tried to deny him the defense of “no significant fault

or negligence” for the drug being present.

Gasquet gave evidence at the appeal, which was heard over

seven hours at CAS headquarters on Nov. 10.

The CAS panel found he “had not committed any fault or

negligence within the meaning of the ITF anti-doping program.”

In his defense, Gasquet said he went to the nightclub with

friends to see a French DJ perform after pulling out of the Sony

Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne with a shoulder injury. He met

“Pamela” there and kissed her several times.

The court said both parties’ experts “agreed that the minute

amount of cocaine could have been transferred in this manner.”

Gasquet can now prepare for the Australian Open in January.

He missed the French Open and Wimbledon while suspended, and in his

first main-draw match after returning lost in straight sets to

top-seeded Rafael Nadal at the U.S. Open.

Deblicker said Gasquet will play at the Brisbane and Sydney

tournaments as part of his preparation for the Australian Open. The

Frenchman is ranked No. 52 in the year-end ATP standings after

being No. 23 when his failed test was announced in April.

Gasquet’s ranking peaked at No. 7 in July 2007 after he

reached the semifinals at Wimbledon, where he lost to Roger

Federer. He has earned more than $4.2 million in career prize

money, according to the ATP.