By Simon Cambers
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The athlete biological passport will be fully effective at the elite level in tennis by September, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said on Wednesday.
The passport, which uses blood tests to detect the likelihood of doping rather than testing for specific substances, came into operation in the final quarter of 2013 and covers around 50 of the world's top players.
If a player's blood profile deviates beyond accepted parameters, set by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), they could be banned, even if they have not failed a drugs test.
The passport is at its most effective once a player has given between three and five blood tests.
"While it's (already) in full operation, its effectiveness is still increasing by virtue of the number of samples that have been collected for every player in the (testing) pool," Dr Stuart Miller, head of the ITF's anti-doping program, told a group of reporters in Melbourne.
"It's based on multiple samples collected over time, which is why that effectiveness needs time to kick in."
The ITF has been criticized in the past for carrying out a relatively low percentage of blood tests, which are considered the most effective way of catching drugs cheats.
Blood tests constituted only nine percent of overall drugs tests in 2012, while only 15 percent of all tests, urine and blood, were conducted out-of-competition.
But the ITF expects the official figures for 2013, due to be released within the next month, to show a significant increase in both the number of blood tests and percentage out of competition testing.
The anti-doping program is jointly funded by the ITF, the four grand slam events, the ATP and WTA Tours.
In 2012, the funding totaled $2 million, including the $400,000 that the ITF pays to administer it.
Miller said the partners had agreed to increase their funding of the program in 2014 and, though he would not be drawn on the total figure, ITF president Francesco Ricci Bitti said each would contribute equally.
"All four bodies in tennis are committed to anti-doping in tennis," Ricci Bitti said. "They believe it is one of the pillars to protect the game. All four bodies contribute the same way."
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)