Maria Sharapova has been banned from tennis until 25 January 2018 for ‘unintentionally’ using the banned substance meldonium.
An independent tribunal appointed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced early Thursday morning its finding that she committed an anti-doping violation.
The two-year ban, imposed based on evidence presented during a two-day hearing in early May, was half the maximum penalty.
The tribunal accepted the player’s argument that her use of meldonium, which was detected in a urine sample provided during this year’s Australian Open, was unintentional. Otherwise, it would have been obligated to impose the full four-year ban.
Nevertheless, the tribunal’s findings were damning.
“The contravention of the anti-doping rules was not intentional as Ms Sharapova did not appreciate that Mildronate [meldonium] contained a substance prohibited from 1 January 2016,” the tribunal concluded in its official findings.
“However she does bear sole responsibility for the contravention, and very significant fault, in failing to take any steps to check whether the continued use of this medicine was permissible.
“If she had not concealed her use of Mildronate [meldonium] from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the contravention would have been avoided. She is the sole author of her own misfortune.”
Minutes after the announcement, Sharapova vowed to appeal.
“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension,” she wrote on her personal Facebook account.
“The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.”
The back story
Sharapova revealed in March that she had made a “huge mistake” by failing a drug test at the 2016 Australian Open.
The Russian provided a sample after a quarter-final loss to Serena Williams on January 26 that was positive to banned substance meldonium.
Meldonium can aid athletes in endurance and recovery and protect against stress.
Sharapova, who made the revelation at a Los Angeles hotel, said she had been taking meldonium for 10 years due to “several medical conditions”.
She added that it was not placed on WADA’s banned list until January 1 2016 and that she failed to read an email that stated the drug’s new status in December.
The Russian acknowledged that she had let her fans down with the positive test.
The fall-out was extensive for the highest paid woman in sport, with sponsors such as Nike, Porsche and TAG Heuer all cancelling their involvement with Sharapova.
Andy Murray was particularly vocal against Sharapova while many fellow players stayed quiet on the subject — and tellingly offered her no support.
Dominika Cibulkova joined the criticism, though, dubbing Sharapova as “arrogant, conceited and cold” and “totally unlikeable”.
A potential loophole emerged last month when WADA backtracked on meldonium, saying: “In the case of meldonium, there is currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times.”
It added that because of this reason, if it could not prove whether an athlete had taken the drug after January 1, grounds for no fault or negligence may exist. At the time it was seen as a win for Sharapova.
– with James Willoughby and Jackson Stiles