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Kuznetsova doping claim dismissed

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Russia's U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova has been cleared of a doping offense.

The Women's Tennis Association said that the Belgian government official who made the accusation against her got it wrong.

Belgian regional sports minister Claude Eerdekens announced on Monday that the world number five had tested positive for ephedrine.

But this was at a charity exhibition tournament in Charleroi and the WTA said that ephedrine was not on the list of prohibited drugs if taken in out-of-competition events.

Ephedrine is a stimulant found in over-the-counter cough and cold remedies.

Kuznetsova admitted she did take some medicine after catching a cold, but had not committed any offense, and was outraged that she had been implicated in a doping scandal that has become front-page news around the world.

"I pride myself on being a clean athlete of the highest integrity and am offended by these disgraceful accusations," the 19-year-old Russian said at the Australian Open.

"There is absolutely no reason why I would take a stimulant to enhance my performance at an out-of-competition exhibition match in the middle of the off-season," she said.

WTA chief executive Larry Scott said he was furious that one of the sport's leading players had been wrongly accused and he demanded the Belgian minister apologize for the damage he had caused.

"If it's (ephedrine) out of competition, under our program, there is zero implication," Scott told a news conference.

"There are very, very serious efforts being made to pursue drug cheats and when you see something like this happen, it really undermines everyone's efforts.

"In all my years in sports, I have never seen a more disgraceful and irresponsible act by a sports official."

Apology needed

He added: "I know our players would like to see an immediate apology for the damage that it's done to our sport."

Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev said he was angry that the story was leaked to the media before tennis officials were even notified.

"This Belgian sports minister has broken every ethical rule in the book by naming a player without any proof of wrongdoing, without any basic evidence," Tarpishchev said.

Briton Greg Rusedski, who was at the center of a doping scandal last year before being cleared of any wrongdoing, said he sympathized with Kuznetsova and the official was wrong to publicly name her.

"I just wish he'd kept his mouth shut," Rusedski said.

Eerdekens had no regrets, however, when he was interviewed by Belgian station RTBF. He said he preferred "an attitude of transparency rather than to demonize the matter and give the impression there were things to hide.

"I am astonished at the reactions abroad to what I said. Is it not in the best interests of the WTA that we all work together to ensure that the sport is clean."

Kuznetsova did not play at Melbourne Park on Tuesday but still drew more attention than most of the players who were in action.

Five security officers were assigned to escort her to the outside courts for her practice session with Colombian Fabiola Zuluaga.

The pair spent an hour on court and Kuznetsova appeared relaxed despite all the attention.

She signed autographs and chatted with fans but refused to answer questions from the media, though she later issued a statement through the WTA.

"I am sure of my innocence and I will not allow these irresponsible accusations which do not comply with credible anti-doping procedures to distract me or my performance at the Australian Open," Kuznetsova said.

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