Italian tennis player Sara Errani has been suspended for two months for failing a doping test after her lawyer argued she inadvertently ingested her mother’s medication to treat cancer.
Errani, 30, who has won nine WTA Tour titles, tested positive for the prohibited substance letrozole, according to an ITF news release. In a pre-hearing brief filed to an independent tribunal, Howard Jacobs, Errani’s lawyer, wrote that Errani most likely ingested letrozole by “accidentally consuming her mother’s anti-cancer medication Femara” while visiting her family.
The player admitted she had committed the anti-doping rule violation and has been suspended for two months, with the ban ending Oct. 2, the ITF said. Errani, who reached the 2012 French Open final, is disqualified from any results posted between Feb. 16 and June 7.
In a statement Monday, Errani said she has never taken a prohibited substance. She went on to explain that she believes she ingested the drug through accidental food contamination.
“I feel very frustrated, but I can only try to stand still and wait for this period to finish,” she said. “I am extremely disappointed but at same time at peace with my conscience and aware I haven’t done anything wrong.”
While staying at her parents’ house in Italy, Errani provided an out-of-competition urine sample Feb. 16 that was sent to a lab in Montreal for analysis. The sample tested postitive for letrozole and the B sample was analyzed on April 25 confirming the result.
Errani’s mother, Fulvia Errani, testified before the tribunal that she has been taking the drug Femara since 2012 after being diagnosed with cancer. She said she kept the drug on the side of the worktop in the kitchen as a reminder because she had to take the pill daily and at times forgot.
In her testimony, Fulvia Errani explained how she prepared tortellini and broth on Feb. 14 or 15. She explained how she had accidentally dropped pills from the pack onto the worktop or floor in the past.
In its decision, the tribunal wrote that Errani’s mother “recognized the risk that she created by keeping and dispensing Femara on the worktop and even when preparing food. Her evidence, and that of the Player, when taken together the Tribunal finds compelling. It was clear that accidentally dropping a second pill onto the worktop had happened on a number of previous occasions previously and that, depending on what was on the top, would not be immediately detected or detected at all.”
The tribunal also heard evidence presented by professors Donata Favretto and Christiane Ayotte. The tribunal wrote “in respect of the quantity of the substance detected it was not possible to say it was indicative or not indicative of deliberate use. Professor Ayotte was also clear that she could not rule out the possibility that the means of ingestion was through food being contaminated by the Femara in the way suggested on the Player’s behalf.”
The tribunal took into account the circumstances involved in the case and Errani’s “unblemished record.” It said the ITF didn’t make a case that Errani’s anti-doping rule violation was intentional, therefore the starting point for the suspension was two years, not four.
In its decision, the tribunal wrote it was “satisfied on the balance of probabilities, such that it is more likely than not, how the Prohibited Substance entered the Player’s body. The degree of fault, whilst at the lower end of the scale, still constitutes fault.”
Errani, who lost in the Round of 16 playing singles at last week’s Citi Open in Washington, is ranked No. 98 and was once ranked as high as No. 5 in the world, in 2013. After turning pro in 2002, she has earned more than $13 million in her career.