Maria Sharapova’s racket manufacturer Head has launched a remarkable defence of the Russian star after her doping ban was reduced from two years to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
The company swiftly took to social media to congratulate itself on standing by Sharapova, who will now be able to return to the game in time for the French Open in May next year.
In contrast to other sponsors including Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche, Head had stuck by Sharapova after she tested positive for the heart-boosting drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January.
And on Tuesday (Wednesday AEDT) alongside a picture of Sharapova, the company tweeted: “Congratulations to @MariaSharapova! #WeStoodWithMaria #headtennis”.
Sharapova had appealed against the length of the ban to CAS, but she did not appeal against the guilty verdict.
But in an accompanying statement, Head chief executive Johan Eliasch appeared to recognise the CAS ruling as a sign of victory, saying: “Head would firstly like to congratulate Maria on justice being served.
“We eagerly await her return to competitive tennis in April 2017 and we are very proud to have stood by Maria for the right reasons throughout these difficult and testing times for both Maria and those who have supported her all over the world.”
Head had issued an equally bullish statement when Sharapova’s failed test first came to light in March, describing it as nothing more sinister than “manifest error” on the player’s part.
The company backed the player’s assertion that she had been taking a legitimately prescribed medication in small doses for up to a decade with the full knowledge of anti-doping authorities.
Tuesday’s statement from Eliasch continued: “It is wholly unfair that Maria, an upstanding individual of the highest moral and ethical conduct, was banned from playing competitive tennis while not actively engaging in any behaviours that could be considered cheating.
“Once again, we are very pleased to welcome Maria back to the sport that we all love, where we have no doubt her true character will shine through and her status as a champion amongst champions will be restored.”