In the news today it emerged that Tennis champion Maria Sharapova had been found guilty of taking a substance banned by the ITF (International Tennis Federation) during this years Australian Open. In the wake of massive doping scandals such as Lance Armstrong, the Russian doping scandal during the 2012 Olympics and more recent allegations against the Kenyan running team allegations for doping are taken much more seriously.
Maria Sharapova however is a different case entirely. Sharapova had been consuming meldonium since 2006 (two years after winning Wimbledon) for “health reasons” but it was only banned months ago. Sharapova claims she did not read the memorandum highlighting its outlawing and so was ignorant of this change. This mistake could cost her her career. Already Tag Heuer have cut all ties with the pro, Nike have immediately suspended their contract with her and she will be provisionally suspended from professional tennis on the 12th March.
One thing stands out as odd, Maria is doubtlessly surrounded by an army of coaches, aides and publicists. Yet none of them checked this new list of banned substances. Though I don’t overly doubt Sharapovas innocence, it is a stretch of the imagination to suppose that not one of her support team knew about this. The drug itself increases blood flow to muscle tissue effectively increasing exercise capacity. The Guardian reported that in 2015 17% of Russian athletes were using this medicine. The drug is primarily used to combat ischaemia but Sharapova was using it supposedly to combat a magnesium deficiency. My personal conclusion is that she did use it being fully aware of the advantage is provided her, what puzzles me is that if 17% of Russian athletes had to immediately cease using the substance how word could not have reached Sharapova of this change. It is likely we will never know for sure whether or not this whole debacle is truly down to ignorance.
I would however like to comment on her own announcement of this(monumental) slip-up. Doping has destroyed the careers of multiple athletes, usually it is given the image of something done seedily in the shadows. Sharapova has done all she can do at this point, damage limitation. By hosting a press conference and confessing her sins before the media can accuse her of all sorts of nefarious deeds she has taken the bull by the horns. She has done what she can to make the story favourable and give herself a chance at saving her career. In 4 years (the usual doping ban length) Sharapova will be almost 33 and could struggle to make an effective comeback. Sharapova is not Serena Williams (World number 1). Serena has beaten Maria 19 out of 21 times they have played. Whilst Maria clearly has a clever publicist, you can’t get blood out of a stone.