The tennis world was received a shock today when Maria Sharapova received a two-year ban from the International Tennis Federation for testing positive for Meldonium.
No one is doubting Sharapova’s guilt and she even admitted to taking the now-banned drug, but because she tested positive twice during the Australian Open, there are questions that she took the drug after it was banned in January. Was it in her system from last year or did she blatantly break the rules?
In a statement, the tribunal ruled: “The contravention of the antidoping rules was not intentional as Ms. Sharapova did not appreciate that Mildronate contained a substance prohibited from 1 January 2016. 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.”
Sharapova posted on Facebook that she is appealing and wrote, “I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension,” she said. “The tribunal, whose members were selected by the I.T.F., agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years.”
This reeks of making Maria an example to the tennis world. Simply put, she’s a very easy target.
First of all, she’s not beloved on the circuit. After the doping incident came to light in March, the NY Post ran a story where her competitors did not shed a tear for the 29 year-old calling her cold and unfriendly. The ITF knows this and knows there won’t be a “Free Maria” campaign at Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows.
Also, since she is a Russian citizen, who spent most of her life in the United States, she is essentially a women without a country. Russians identify with those who actually live in Russia and Americans don’t want any part of her, since she enjoys the fruits of our country, but doesn’t want citizenship.
Simply put, she’s a very pretty face, who had success on the court with five Grand Slam Championships under her belt.
One wonders is a more popular player among the circuit like Serena Williams or Caroline Wozniacki were in the same boat they would have such harsh punishment.
Giving such a ban to a high profile figure like Sharapova, where there won’t be a major uprising among the masses is a very easy call to make.
Tennis does have a precedent though. In 2008, Martina Hingis was banned for two years when she played Wimbledon on cocaine. But here’s the big difference, cocaine is an illegal drug, where Meldonium is a drug still legal in Russia, but put on the banned substance list just a few weeks before she tested positive for it.
Getting two years at 29, pretty much puts Maria at her end. All her endorsements are lost and unlike team sports players, who have guaranteed contracts and can come back to the end of a contract for millions, she is essentially an independent contractor, who has to earn by winning matches.
Before you shed a tear for her, remember Sharapova made $36,766,149 from playing tennis and that doesn’t include the endorsement money. If she doesn’t play another match, she will do fine.
But let’s hope she does. Even though Maria broke the rules, two years is just too harsh for the infraction.
She isn’t being punished, she is being made an example to the rest.