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Li Na playing in the US Open on August 26. Photo: AFP

New York Times apologises to tennis superstar Li Na for steroid use allegation

In an August 22 report, the Times mistakenly said that Li had taken 'steroid pills'

Li Na

The New York Times has issued an apology to Chinese professional tennis player Li Na for publishing a report that alleged Li had been forced into early retirement after taking steroids.

The lengthy profile piece, entitled “ Li Na, China’s Tennis Rebel", was originally published on August 22. In it, reporter Brook Larmer wrote that Li’s two-year break from the tennis world in 2002 had been caused by a number of different factors, including “the burnout from excessive training, the outrage at her coaches’ attempts to squelch her romance with a male teammate named Jiang Shan, [and] the debilitating period that the head coach insisted she play through, overruling a doctor’s recommendations, by taking steroid pills, to which she was allergic.”

News of the alleged steroid pill use spread throughout Chinese media shortly after The New York Times piece was published, and after looking into the matter, officials from the Tennis Management Centre of China’s State General Administration of Sports denied that Li had ever taken steroids.

Reporter Larmer later revealed that the article's background information had been pieced together from interviews with Li and parts of her Chinese-language biography Fighting Alone. The term “steroid pills” had been a mis-translation of the Chinese term for “hormone medication,” and The New York Times issued an official apology to Li’s agent Max Eisenbud.

Eisenbud notified media of the apology in a press conference after Li’s August 28 victory over Sweden’s Sofia Arvidsson in the US Open, Tencent Sports reported. He told reporters that Li was “already in the final stages of her career” and unverified rumours of steroid abuse would not faze her.

“She has already invested a lot in playing tennis for China,” Eisenbud reportedly said. “Please give her more of your attention and encouragement.”