Golfer Vijay Singh, the winner of the 2000 Masters Tournament, sued the PGA Tour claiming he was publicly humiliated by a suspension for using deer-antler spray before he was cleared of wrongdoing two months later.
Singh, the world’s top-ranked player in 2004 and 2005, filed a complaint yesterday in New York State Supreme Court accusing the PGA Tour of “reckless administration and implementation” of its anti-doping program. Singh said in the filing that he used the spray for knee and back problems and checked its ingredients against the tour’s list of banned substances to make sure it didn’t contain any of them.
The tour imposed an undisclosed penalty against Singh on Feb. 19, about a month after he said in a Sports Illustrated article that he had used the spray. It cleared him last month after the World Anti-Doping Agency said the spray was no longer outlawed.
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“After exposing Singh, one of the PGA Tour’s most respected and hardest-working golfers, to public humiliation and ridicule for months, and forcing Singh to perform the type of scientific analyses and review that the PGA Tour was responsible for performing, the PGA Tour finally admitted that the grounds on which it sought to impose discipline were specious and unsupportable,” Singh said in the suit.
Singh said he was suspended from the tour in February for 90 days. He was allowed to play pending an appeal of the suspension, although the tour held about $100,000 of his prize money in escrow.
There’s no test to determine excessive levels of IGF-1, a substance found in deer antler spray that is naturally produced by the human body and is related to growth hormone. On April 26, the tour was told by the World Anti-Doping Agency that it no longer considered the spray a prohibited substance without a positive test, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said April 30.
While the tour’s five-year-old doping policy doesn’t include blood testing, Finchem said the tour would probably adopt it if there’s no other way to test for a particular substance, such as IGF-1. The tour’s doping policy calls for sanctions if a player admits using a substance on WADA’s banned list even if there’s no positive test.
Ty Votaw, a spokesman for the Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida-based PGA Tour, declined to comment on the lawsuit in an e-mail.
Sports Illustrated reported in January that Singh and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who retired from the National Football League earlier this year after his team won the Super Bowl, used the spray. Lewis denied using the spray.
Singh said his caddie, Tony Shepherd, recommended that the golfer use a product called “The Ultimate Spray,” which was made by a company called Sports With Alternatives to Steroids, or SWATS, according to the lawsuit.
Shepherd told Singh the spray was an “all-natural” product that he had used and that he knew other professional golfers were using, according to the suit. After checking the spray’s ingredients against the list of banned substances, Singh said he used the product for about a month during the off season, spraying it into his mouth.
IGF-1 is an abbreviation for “Insulin-Like Growth Factor-1,” a hormone naturally produced by the human body that is needed for childhood growth, according to the suit. Children suffering from growth failure may be prescribed a drug called Increlex, which is a form of IGF-1 that is biologically active and must be given through injection to be absorbed into the body, according to the suit.
After the Sports Illustrated article was published, Singh gave the tour a bottle of the spray and a urine sample that was negative for any banned substance, according to the suit. The tour submitted the bottle to the Olympic Analytical Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, which found that the material tested negative for “anabolic androgenic steroids” while identifying one of the materials as IGF-1, he said in the complaint.
The UCLA lab determined that the spray contains 60 nanograms of IGF-1, or about .00006 the amount in Increlex and the growth hormone on the banned list -- not enough “to be anything more than a placebo,” according to the suit.
“Scientists have compared the amount of IGF-1 contained in the spray to the amount contained in a dose of Increlex as pouring a shot of bourbon into an Olympic sized swimming pool,” Singh said in the suit.
Singh said the tour didn’t discipline other golfers who have used the spray and hasn’t tried to discipline them, he said.
Singh, a native of Fiji, claimed the tour’s actions led him to be “humiliated, ashamed, ridiculed, scorned and emotionally distraught,” and led to harassment that compromised his professional career. He is seeking damages, including punitive damages, to be determined at trial.
Singh has won 58 tournaments, including 34 PGA Tour events, and also won two other major tournaments, the 1998 and 2004 PGA Championships, according to his suit. He is third on the PGA Tour’s career money list with $67.5 million in earnings and holds the title for the most wins after the age of 40.
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