When news came that Maria Sharapova was to host a press conference in the United States to make a ‘Major Announcement”, many people speculated that she would announce her retirement from professional tennis, or be forced to take an extended break to recuperate from the forearm injury that has plagued her for the past 8 months. Some of us here at Happy Slam Tennis HQ even speculated that that Masha would launch her own range of underwear, but sadly ‘Pova’s Panties’ was not to be. Instead what we heard surprised and shocked us and the tennis world.
The 5 time grand slam champion dressed in a dark long sleeve jacket unlike her usual bright off court attire, stood stoic and announced that she had tested positive to a banned substance, specifically Meldonium. Maria explained that she had been taking the drug as prescribed by her family doctor since 2006 to help fight a number of health issues, including low Magnesium levels, irregular EKG results and early signs of Diabetes. She added that she was unaware that the drug had been added to the World Anti-Drug Association (WADA) banned list effective the 1st of January 2016.
The drug which we understand was developed in Latvia and used predominantly in Eastern Europe is used for the treatment of vascular disease by aiding circulation and oxygen to blood flow – in turn, it is also suggested that Meldonium assists athletes by increasing endurance and aiding rehabilitation. We also understand that this drug is not approved for use in many countries, and has been on the WADA watch list for some time, although not considered a prohibited substance prior to January 1st 2016.
Maria who took the test on January 26th (just 26 days after it became prohibited) said in her press conference that she received a letter advising of the positive test on March 2nd, and sombrely admitted that she had “made a huge mistake”.
“I let my fans down. I let my sport down that I’ve been playing since the age of four and that I love so deeply.”
Before adding “I know that with this I face consequences and I don’t want to end my career this way […] I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game”. As this matter is still under investigation the full consequences of the failed test are yet to surface.
The 28 year old’s lawyers and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) have advised that Maria has been provisionally suspended from the tour effective from March 12th, while the matter is investigated. Reports today indicate that the offense likely to incur a minimum 1 year suspension from the sport, although Sharapova and her lawyer have advised that they are looking to strike a deal with the ITF to have this reduced.
Masha confirmed that WADA advised of all the 2016 changes by email. A clickable link was available to expand which detailed the specifics of these changes – a link which Sharapova admits she did not open. Many are questioning how a member of her team or her doctor could have missed this (especially given that it had been on the WADA watch list for some time). This also begs the question, is one email/letter enough notification for a drug that Maria admits she has used legally for 10 years?
As the investigation into the matter continues long time sponsor Nike announced that they have suspended their relationship with the 5 grand slam champion, with Tag Heuer confirming that they will not be renewing their contract- while other sponsors such as Head and Porsche have yet to comment.
Opinions on social media have varied with some players such as Martina Navratilova and Ryan Harrison showing support for the Russian, while others such as Jenifer Capriati have reacted angrily to the news demanding that the world’s highest paid female athlete be stripped of all her titles.
The one thing we are sure of is that this is matter will generate discussion for a long time to come, especially with recent news surfacing of a Russian doping scandal involving the misuse of Meldonium. Sadly, any way you look at it the road ahead looks very bumpy for Maria.
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