Here’s a news story you could have missed. What happened is something of a mystery as of this writing. Maybe you can figure it out or guess the truth. Frankly, I cannot. Arguments on both sides of the controversy seem full of holes, yet obviously this either happened or it didn’t.

First, here are the facts that are not disputed, with backup links if you wish to explore them further.

German tennis star Tommy Haas, ranked 13th in the world, was in Moscow six weeks ago for the semi-finals of the Davis Cup competition. He did not perform well on the first day of the tournament.

On the evening before the last day of the games, he became violently ill and spent most of the night hugging the toilet. Haas and most other people believed he had contracted some kind of food poisoning from his customary dessert and Latte macciato, which none of his teammates had ordered.

Haas was far too weak to participate the next day and was replaced by a player internationally ranked at number 206. The Russian team came from behind to win the tournament on this third and last day. A German medical team examined him and tested Haas for a virus. To this day, he has never felt completely well, had a vomiting spell before a tournament in late October, and still reports odd stomach symptoms.

Then comes the bizarre part. Several weeks after the Davis Cup competition a teammate of Tommy Haas, Alexander Waske, came forward and made a startling allegation. He said that he was casually told by a Russian manager, right after Haas became so ill, that this was not caused by a virus, as Waske was arguing. The manager, who Waske still declines to identify, claimed that the Russians had deliberately poisoned Haas. He insisted he was quite familiar with the Moscow authorities and how they operate, and that they were amply capable of making things like this happen.

When Waske finally told all this to the International Tennis Federation, they said they would take it seriously and investigate to find out the facts. The German tennis federation held that there was no medical evidence of poisoning and no reason to pursue further testing.

Various Kremlin spokespersons described the allegations as “fantasy,” “complete rubbish,“ a way of getting publicity, and said that they had no motive for poisoning Haas since he had been playing so poorly early in the tournament. The Russian team captain said that Waske denied to him that he had ever made the allegation at all!

Hass traveled to New York and was to receive tests on November 8 to see if there was evidence of poison in his system.

Now let’s look at the holes in both sides of the story. Why would a Russian trainer tell such a thing? Picture it. Some guy claiming inside connections to Kremlin operatives just casually blurts out to some German tennis player that Haas has been deliberately poisoned. This whole scenario reads like a bad piece of detective fiction. But why would Waske make it up? If he is being truthful, who was it that told him this, and what were his motives? Why was he so astonishingly careless and indiscreet?

It would be preposterous to believe that Waske never even made the allegation, as the Russian team captain maintained. This is a lie, either by the Russian or by a frightened Waske.

It makes no sense to believe that the Russians would decline to poison Haas because he played so badly just before and after the tournament started. Clandestine operations like this would require bureaucratic authorization, planning, and time for execution. It would have to have been planned well in advance and would have been carried out no matter how Tommy Haas performed. The motive for planning it would have been that Haas was ranked 13th in the world and was a threat to a Russian victory. They had no way of knowing he’d be off his game after arriving in Moscow.

It is a dodge to say that medically “there is no evidence” of poisoning. Haas was tested for a virus, not for sophisticated poisons. Some poisons are hard to trace. It is odd that the German delegation would claim there is no reason to do further testing. There is every reason in the world to do further testing. Especially if no foul play was involved, even the Russians should be pressing for medical evaluations that would prove their innocence and end this rumor, which will never go away if not firmly disproved.

The Kremlin spokespersons, whether innocent or guilty, made the usual goofy, sloppy denials we grew so tired of during the Cold War. Nothing they said rang true. But then even when they are totally innocent they sound guilty, because they are liars for hire.

This alleged incident would be in character for the “New Russia,” whose president has been suspected of Putin’ around the apothecary on a number of occasions. He and his army of aging KGB agents would not hesitate to destroy a young man to advance their national prestige by a hair. They had the means, motive, opportunity, and lack of scruples to do so.

But that doesn’t prove that they did anything in this case. All we have today is a queasy tennis star and the alleged statement of an anonymous informant of undetermined reliability. Only when the toxicology report from New York is made public will we know anything else for sure.

Let’s hope this is all just a dirty rumor that can be quickly dispelled. The Olympics are coming.

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