Maria Sharapova slapped with two-year drug ban; tennis star will appeal

Maria Sharapova returns a ball at the Miami Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, March 26, 2015.
Maria Sharapova returns a ball at the Miami Open in Key Biscayne, Florida, March 26, 2015. Miami Herald File/2015

Maria Sharapova was suspended for two years by the International Tennis Federation on Wednesday for testing positive for meldonium, a banned substance.

The ruling said that while she did not cheat intentionally, she must take “sole responsibility” and “very significant fault” for the error.

Sharapova, 29, responded in a statement that she “cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension” and that she would appeal the decision.

The sentence, as it stands, would end on Jan. 25, 2018.

Sharapova’s statement read: “Today with their decision of a two-year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional. The tribunal found that I did not seek treatment from my doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance-enhancing substance. The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not. You need to know that the ITF asked the tribunal to suspend me for four years — the required suspension for an intentional violation — and the tribunal rejected the ITF’s position.

“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension. The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.”

Sharapova was temporarily suspended from the tour in March, when she admitted that she had failed a drug test after her quarterfinal at the Australian Open in January.

She claimed that she was unaware mildronate, a drug she had used since 2006, was on the banned list and known as meldonium. That drug had been legal in the past but was added to the banned substance list on Jan. 1 of this year.

Sharapova also tested positive for that drug in a random test in Moscow on Feb. 2. The drug is said to boost oxygen and blood flow, and she said she was using it at the order of her doctor because of family history of heart issues.

Steve Simon, the CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, said of the ruling: “It is important at all times for players to be aware of the rules and to follow them. In this case, Maria has taken responsibility for her mistake from the outset. The WTA supports the process that the ITF and Maria have followed. The ITF has made its ruling and, under the Tennis Anti-Doping Program, the decision may be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The WTA will continue to follow this closely, and we hope it will be resolved as soon as possible.”

Sharapova reached out to her fans on Facebook:

“I have missed playing tennis and I have missed my amazing fans, who are the best and most loyal fans in the world. I have read your letters. I have read your social media posts, and your love and support has gotten me through these tough days. I intend to stand for what I believe is right, and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible. Love Maria.”