THE KEY QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS SURROUNDING MARIA SHARAPOVA’S LENGTHY PUNISHMENT.
Why has Sharapova been suspended?
Sharapova tested positive for the banned substance meldonium on January 26 this year, the same day she lost to Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarter-finals. Meldonium is principally used to treat cases of ischaemic heart disease but its ability to boost blood-flow can also aid an athlete’s endurance. As a result, it was added to World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list of substances on January 1.
Is the ban fair and could it be reduced?
The suspension was certainly heavier than most expected. The International Tennis Federation has given Sharapova a two-year suspension, backdated to the day of her positive test, meaning she will be ineligible to compete again until January 26, 2018. Sharapova described the punishment as “unfairly harsh” and will lodge an immediate appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. If successful, the ban could be shortened.
Did she take the drug deliberately?
Meldonium was legal until January 1 this year and Sharapova insists she simply was not aware it had been added to the prohibited list. She was first prescribed it in 2006 to help with cold-related illnesses and had taken it ever since. The Independent Tribunal, appointed by the ITF, agreed Sharapova did not intentionally violate anti-doping rules – if she had, she would have received a four-year ban.
So what was the problem?
The tribunal concluded Sharapova was taking meldonium to enhance her performance and failed to make necessary checks as to its legality. She continued taking the drug long after she was prescribed it for medicinal purposes and routinely on the morning of matches. For example, at Wimbledon last year, she took it six times in seven days. She also concealed the substance, failing to inform her medical team or coaches and choosing not to disclose its use on doping control forms. The report said she was “the sole author of her own misfortune”.
Is this the end of her career?
Sharapova is renowned for her fighting spirit and she will be determined not to go out on such a sour note. She may well therefore return but we may have seen the last of her challenging for grand slam titles. The next major tournament she can enter is the French Open in 2018, by which time she will be 31. After such a lengthy period away from intense, top-level competition, it seems extremely unlikely she will ever be able to add to her five major triumphs.