Toronto, Canada – By Brian Homewood
BERNE (Reuters) - Frenchman Richard Gasquet has been cleared over a positive cocaine test after sport's highest court accepted that he was probably contaminated inadvertently by kissing a woman in a nightclub.
"The player has been exonerated from any fault or negligence," the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said as it rejected an appeal from the International Tennis Federation (IFT) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), who had asked for a one-to-two year ban.
"On a balance of probability, the CAS panel concluded that it was more likely than not that the player's contamination with cocaine resulted, as Gasquet always asserted, from kissing a woman in a nightclub in Miami on the day before the anti-doping test and that the player had met the required standards of proof with respect to the way of ingestion."
The world number 52, who appeared before a CAS hearing in Lausanne in November, was provisionally suspended in May after a sample he provided in March tested positive for benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine.
"I am totally relieved," Gasquet told French television channel Canal Plus. "It was a crazy story and I went through a nightmare for eight months.
"I am happy to be a hundred per cent cleared. It was very difficult for me, I'm glad it's over. I am now ready to go to Australia on December 28, to play two tournaments there and to enter the Australian Open.
"Mentally, it was very tough. I could have done without all this but now I'm happy to be back on the tennis courts. My goal is to make it back into the top 10."
Gasquet, who finished 2007 in the top 10 of the ATP rankings, always claimed his innocence and said he had a hair sample tested by an independent lab which showed no trace of cocaine.
In July, an independent tribunal set up under the tennis anti-doping programme, found the 23-year-old guilty but ruled that he had been inadvertently contaminated.
However, the ITF and WADA appealed to CAS in August for a heavier sanction.
"The CAS panel decided to dismiss the appeals after having found that in this particular case Richard Gasquet had not committed any fault or negligence within the meaning of the ITF Anti-Doping Programme," the CAS statement said.
"The CAS panel noted that a doping offence was correctly reported because of the presence of a minuscule quantity of benzoylecgonine in the player's urine, but that it was not the result of a fault or negligence of the player.
"It was also established that the player was clearly not a regular cocaine user, even in very small amounts. As a consequence, the possibility of contamination became the most plausible explanation justifying the presence of cocaine metabolite in the player's urine."
The ITF expressed its disappointment at the CAS decision to clear Gasquet.
"The ITF is disappointed with today's decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport to dismiss the ITF's and WADA's (World Anti-Doping Agency) appeal against the decision imposed on Richard Gasquet by an independent tribunal in July 2009," ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti said.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Vignal)
(Editing by Ed Osmond)