Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova spoke at a press conference in Los Angeles on March 7. Before the conference, rumors circulated that Sharapova may announce her retirement. Instead, Sharapova disclosed that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January.
ESPN reported that Sharapova said the medication meldonium caused her failed test. She explained that she did not check to see if meldonium was on the updated banned substance list sent out by the World Anti-Doping Agency in December and that she had been taking the drug for approximately 10 years to combat a myriad of health issues including signs of diabetes and irregular echocardiography exams. Meldonium is a banned substance because it can “aid oxygen uptake and endurance” for healthy subjects.
WADA only banned meldonium as of January 1—the same month of Sharapova’s failed test. She also expressed how saddened she was that she had let her sport and fans down.
Even though Sharapova has been honest about her test, many have been highly critical of her actions. It appears that Sharapova, however, never intended to gain an advantage on her competitors throughout the decade in which she took meldonium for health reasons. In her case, the crime committed was only one of carelessness.
The blame cannot be placed solely on Sharapova––professional athletes rely on their teams to make inquiries on their behalf. Her failure to check the list is unacceptable, but this oversight cannot be confused with Sharapova intentionally taking performance-enhancing drugs. Sharapova’s reputable brand is something she has spent years creating. It seems unlikely that she would intentionally break a rule set by WADA that would result in the destruction of her career.
Fellow professional tennis players have spoken out in support of Sharapova. According to FOX Sports, Serena Williams was very respectful when she addressed her rival’s situation. “[Sharapova] was upfront and very honest and showed a lot of courage to admit to what she had done and what she had neglected to look at,” Williams said. These words regarding Sharapova’s character—especially coming from an opponent—indicate that this scandal can be reduced to a simple oversight.
Sharapova posted on Facebook that she looked forward to giving her “detailed medical records” to the International Tennis Federation. CBS News confirmed that the ITF will decide the consequences for Sharapova’s failed test. While former WADA president Dick Pound explained that Sharapova could face up to a four year suspension, a yearlong suspension is probably a more appropriate penalty for Sharapova’s negligence. The time away would not decimate her career, but would allow her to take responsibility for her actions.
Sharapova’s compliance with the ITF and her openness regarding her failed drug test show that she has acknowledged her wrongdoings. According to the evidence thus far, Sharapova and her support team are only guilty of being negligent. It would be a shame if this simple mistake will bring Sharapova’s iconic 15-year career to a controversial close.