System intended to reduce positive tests

HOUSTON -- Nutritional supplements tested by a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited laboratory and approved by the ATP will be available to men's tennis players during next year's Australian Open, officials said on Tuesday.

The ATP and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline have unveiled a line of products that will undergo rigorous testing to ensure their quality before being made available to players over a secure website.

"Our priority with the ATP is to provide an unprecedented level of security to reassure the players," said Clare Brosnan business director for Lucozade sport, a division of GlaxoSmithKline. "To be tested positive for a banned substance is an athletes biggest fear. These products will provide another level of reassurance."

Concern over tainted supplements peaked last year after seven players, including Britain's Greg Rusedski, tested positive for the banned substance nandrolone. Rusedski escaped punishment by successfully arguing that contaminated supplements supplied by the ATP were responsible for his failed test. The ATP later conceded their supplements may have been to blame.

The new supplements will be produced according to U.S. Federal Drug Administration regulations and tested for purity by GlaxoSmithKline before being placed in numbered batches. The batches will then be tested by a WADA-approved laboratory in Newmarket, England, before being offered to players at the Australian Open which starts on January 17.

In case a player returns a positive test, a small sample from each batch will be secured and stored for three times the product's normal shelf life (3½ months to 2½ years) so it can be determined whether the supplement was tainted.

While supportive of the ATP effort, WADA warned that players must continue to remain vigilant about what they put in their bodies.

"It's not a WADA-approved project but any advancement towards eliminating contaminated supplements is a step in the right direction," David Howman, WADA executive director told Reuters. "But it is only a step, players will have to be aware of piracy and mislabelling.

"Someone will try to sell the products cheaper and a player just might pick up some pills read the label see it's approved and assume it is all right when it isn't.

"Some players will get them from other players and so on.

"You have to be very cautious in the way forward in these matters."

The International Tennis Federation also expressed skepticism and concerned about who would be deemed liable should a player fail a test.

"We believe in general there are not many advantages (to using supplements). We believe it's more psychological than a physical advantage," ITF chief Francesco Ricci Bitti said. "Supplements are risky. We stick to our position -- it's not clear supplements are helpful."