by LIAM RICHNER
Maria Sharapova entered the hotel room in Los Angeles on monday evening with many expecting her to announce her retirement from professional tennis. Instead, the five-time Grand Slam champion sent shockwaves across the world of Sport.
“I wanted to let you know that a few days ago I received a letter from the ITF (International Tennis Federation) that said I had failed a drugs test at the Australian Open.
“I did fail the test, and take full responsibility for it.
“For the past 10 years I have been given a drug called Mildronate by my family doctor. A few days ago, I found out it also has another name, Meldonium, which I did not know.
“It’s important that you realise this medicine has not been on WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Agency) banned list and I have been legally taking this medicine for 10 years.
“But on January 1st, the rules had changed, and Meldonium became a prohibited substance which again I did not know.”
“I made a huge mistake. I have let my family down, my fans downs and the sport down.”
“I know I will face consequences, but I don’t wanna end my career this way and I hope one day I can once again play this game.”
The 28-year old knows that she will be provisionally suspended by the ITF on March 12. Reports say she faces a ban from the sport for up to four years, after being found positive for Meldonium.
Meldonium is said to benefit sufferers of diabetes, something Sharapova says she suffers from and that runs through her family.
But it’s ability to enhance oxygen in muscle movement makes it potentially a performance enhancing drug. This is why Meldonium was added to the WADA banned list.
Sharapova may be one of the most glamorous sporting icons of modern times, but it was her injudicious decision last September which proved to be the killer punch.
Neither herself, or a member of her team, opened a link in an E-Mail which listed the substances that were to be banned in January.
Had she done so, she would have had three months to try and find a drug that could replace Meldonium. One which would still be legal in the eyes of the anti-doping agency.
You may argue WADA should do more to inform athletes of changes in what is now banned. Besides, I doubt any of us actually open all the attachments in E-Mails we receive.
Some people have claimed Sharapova’s press conference was a final throw at trying to play the innocence card. Her carefully worded announcement has polarised opinion. Serena Williams has labelled Sharapova ‘brave and courageous’ for taking responsibility. On the other hand, former WADA president Dick Pound has described the Russian as ‘reckless’.
Others have claimed that the 28-year old’s strong relationship with the media will make her punishment just a soft slap on the wrist in terms of scrutinising her reputation.
Had the International Tennis Federation announced she failed a drugs tests, she would probably be judged by a more hostile crowd. But she beat them to the chase, which could have a massive bearing on whatever outcome awaits the five-time Grand Slam winner.
It’s a different scenario to cases such as Lance Armstrong in the fact we can’t confirm Sharapova used this drug to enhance her performance. She may have found herself being the scapegoat in this whole fiasco, seeing as she is the highest profile athlete to be tested positive for Meldonium.
She loves tennis. It’s in her blood. There is no reason that I can think of that would suggest why she would attempt to tarnish the sport she cares so dearly about.
She has been one of the highest paid female athletes over the last decade. Last year, she earned an estimated $30 million from winnings and endorsements.
Her appeal in terms of branding is for sure in jeopardy as Nike have suspended it’s wealthy partnership with Sharapova.Tag Heuer have cut it’s ties already with the 28-year old.
Porsche have suspended any activity with the Russian until the events become more clear.
Sharapova will need to have a long look at herself and realise how easily all this could have been avoided. Yes, she admits the mistake. Yes, she has needed Meldonium for health reasons. But she would have had enough time to replace the drug with something legal and as effective.