I was going to write about Novak Djokovic’s accomplishments this weekend in Paris, but unfortunately the news of the day in tennis comes out of London and it has nothing to do with any match results.
As you know by now, today the ITF whacked Maria Sharapova with a 2-year ban for taking the drug meldonuim which is found in mildronate.
Some thoughts on the ruling.
1. Two Years!
I think I’m with most people who didn’t see a ban of two years coming. Maybe one year, maybe 6-9 months or as some thought maybe no ban at all. But TWO YEARS!
Sharapova admitted to taking the drug. And the ITF agreed she wasn’t aware it was added to the banned list. And the ITF also stated that she wasn’t intentionally taking the drug to gain an advantage. Yes, the ruling was so harsh. Very harsh.
Sharapova is 29 now and when she returns on January 26, 2018, she will be a few months from 31.
Yes, Serena is still chugging along at almost 35. So, too, is Venus. But Sharapova doesn’t have that kind of pure power game nor the serves of the Williams sisters.
If this holds, I think Maria’s career is over.
2. Her Fault
This is a pretty simple case. She took a took the drug Meldonium for 10 years to help with her family heart issues, prevent diabetes, mineral disorder, etc. The drug, which helps blood and oxygen flow, was banned at the start of 2016. She and her team were notified of this change but she didn’t open the email. Nor did her agent who claims he was in a state of distress over a separation from his wife (he only reads doping emails poolside in thee Carribean?).
So she kept taking it, she tested positive in Melbourne and again at Fed Cup.
End of story.
As she admitted back in March, it’s her responsibility to know what is or isn’t banned. The fact that you didn’t open the email, or your agent had personal problems are all irrelevant. The onus is on you, regardless of the Whys.
As the ITF put it at the end of their 33-page statement, “She is the sole author of her own misfortune.”
Now she has to pay.
3. Why Take The Drug?
And what didn’t help was records showed that the original doctor told her to take more of the drug before bigger matches.
“Mildronate 1-2 X 10, repeat in 2 wks (before training or competition)”
“1 hr before competition, 2 pills of Mildronate”
“During games of special importance, you can increase your Mildronate dose to 3-4 pills (1 hr before the match). However, it is necessary to consult me on all these matters (please call)”
“30 minutes prior to a training session: Mildronat – 1 Capsule. 30-45 minutes prior to a tournament Mildronat 2 capsules”
Huh? While the drug was legal at the time, does this sound like some taking medication just to combat or prevent an illness or someone who is trying to gain an advantage?
The ITF’s own doctor looked at Sharapova’s medical records and agreed her health would benefit from the drug, but more test’s from Sharapova’s doctor should have been performed to confirm that.
“[The ITF doctor] does express the opinion that Dr. Skalny was, in the light of Ms Sharapova’s family history, justified in prescribing Mildronate both as a cardioprotective agent and as a preventative agent for diabetes. However it is important to note that Dr. Skalny was not a cardiologist nor did he advise that Ms Sharapova had a cardiac condition which required specialist medical attention.”
And she was taking the drug before what seemed to be every match.
Again, legal but shady.
4. And She Kept Taking The Drug
And she kept taking this drug AFTER her she ended the relationship with her Moscow-based doctor, Dr. Skalny, who had originally prescribed it.
“By the end of 2012 Ms Sharapova had decided to follow a different approach to her nutritional intake,” the ITF stated. “She found the taking of lots of pills overwhelming and she thought there was a better way to handle her health than by taking a large number of pills.”
And she was taking the drug without any known medical advice.
“Whatever the position may have been in 2006, there was in 2016 no diagnosis and no therapeutic advice supporting the continuing use of Mildronate. If she had believed that there was a continuing medical need to use Mildronate then she would have consulted a medical practitioner. The manner of its use, on match days and when undertaking intensive training, is only consistent with an intention to boost her energy levels.”
She failed to reproduce a box the pills to show the tribual nor offer a source of the drug.
“The player has not identified the precise source of the medication which her father collected for her in Russia.”
Not illegal but not good either.
6. Don’t Tell
Another issue the ITF had with Sharapova’s defense was the fact she didn’t disclose the drug use to those around her.
“On the evidence of her manager this use of Mildronate by Ms Sharapova was not known to any of Ms Sharapova’s team, except for her father and, from 2013, Mr. Eisenbud (Manager) himself. It was not known to her coach, her trainer, her physio who was responsible for recommending recovery drinks during and post match, her nutritionist who was responsible for her food and supplement intake, nor any of the doctors she consulted through the WTA. It is remarkable that in the documents disclosed by the player the only documents which refer to Mildronate are documents from Dr. Skalny between 2006 and 2010. There is no document after 2010 in the player’s records which relates to her use of Mildronate. Nor was the use of Mildronate disclosed to the anti-doping authorities on any of the doping control forms which Ms Sharapova signed in 2014 and 2015.”
If it was just for preventative measures, why hide it from nearly all of her team and from the tour?
“The player admits that she did not disclose her use of Mildronate on any doping control form which she completed between 2014 and 2016. The 7 doping control forms in evidence were completed and signed by Ms Sharapova between 22 October 2014 and 26 January 2016. They did disclose some medications and vitamins, but did not disclose that she had, within the last 7 days, ingested capsules of Mildronate.”
During her hearing, she responded. “I did not feel it was a huge responsibility of mine to write all those medications down. As I said before, in hindsight, this is a mistake of mine. …. I did not feel it was a responsibility to have to write down every single match drink I was taking, gel, vitamin that I was taking, even if I took it once during the last seven days. I did not think it was of high importance.”
Another strike against Maria.
7. She’ll Appeal
Of course upon appeal she might get a reduced sentence. And I think she will. Viktor and Marin Cilic are a few of the players to get their sentences cut so I suspect a similar outcome for Maria. But I can’t imagine they’ll throw out the ruling or reduce it by more than 6-12 months.
Wrapping it up, the ITF took her side that she didn’t know the drug had been banned and they kind of agreed she wasn’t taking it to enhance her performance. But just some of the underhanded gave them enough doubt to slap her with a 2-year ban rather than a shorter one like we had expected
So I don’t think we are going to see Sharapova back in a Grand Slam until the French Open next year at the earliest.
And that’s a big loss for Sharapova, for the WTA and for tennis.
You Might Like:
Roger Federer On Maria Sharapova’s Doping Ban: Zero Tolerance!
Maria Sharapova’s 2018 Season Is Over
Verdict In Maria Sharapova’s Appeal Of Her 2-Year Ban To Be Announced 9am ET Tuesday
Maria Sharapova’s Sponsorship Woes: Nike, Porsche Suspend Relationship, Tag Heuer Won’t Renew
4 Thoughts On Maria Sharapova’s Appeal “Victory”