7 Thoughts On Maria Sharapova’s 2-Year Ban From Tennis
by Sean Randall | June 8th, 2016, 2:47 pm
  • 36 Comments

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”

Don't miss any tennis action, stay connected with Tennis-X

Get the FREE TX daily newsletter

36 Comments for 7 Thoughts On Maria Sharapova’s 2-Year Ban From Tennis

SG Says:

Totally disagree with you that they should reduce her sentence. After reading the full decision word-by-word. She should be happy that this is all focused on this one infraction at the Australian Open and that this was just because of the addition to the list.

Her entire story reads like a total doping job since the age of 17 to attain enhanced performance through taking a cocktail of drugs prescribed by a special doctor in Moscow. Started with 18 drugs and supplements and got up to 30(!) drugs and supplements. Got tired of it and thought she was special, but just in case kept 3 drugs because she knew those were the real goodies. And she kept it hidden from everyone – all the super-professionals on her team and the tour. She was on a good system via the Moscow doctor because they were checking against the WADA list to not trip the system, but then she foolishly decided to stop it.

And you are also wrong in your #3 above. Dr. Ford Vox is not indicated to be the “ITF doctor.” In fact, he was a witness for the defendant (Sharapova). I.e. they got another doctor – presumably an American – to kind of rubber stamp the Moscow doctor’s decision. And the guy barely rubber stamped it. The drug is for cardiovascular decease and she had none. But could possibly be taken off-label. Whatever. That was just another doctor covering Sharapova’s story. So don’t make it that the ITF agreed that the medication was right for her ailments. A healthy, young adult of the ages 18-25 doesn’t take 30 medications because they have serious condition, yet still maintain best-in-the-world ranking. This is called athlete conditioning and priming, i.e. doping… The fact that it was (barely) within the legal boundaries is irrelevant. All doping is legal until it is deemed illegal because people always look for ways to beat the system.


SG Says:

Just to add, Sean. I am totally a random dude that has nothing to pick against Sharapova. In fact, very much liked her and admired her for what she’d done. I keep giving her as an example to my kids all the times.

Just a fan of your blog now for many years. Never commented before but after reading the 33 pages of the Tribunal decision, I got quite emotional that people will brush off all the facts laid out and will read the news stories which try to present the decision in 2 sentences and then balance it with her spin position. And then they’ll take her side and/or some conspiracy theory-side.


Ruby Says:

As in cycling years ago, a scapegoat was needed to prove to the world that tennis is now “clean.” Unfortunately for Sharapova she walked right into that need with the perfect case for prosecuting. She openly admitted to taking a drug and taking it after it had been banned. The ITF had a gift on a platter — and an even greater gift to have someone as famous as Sharapova.

The sad part to me is that she will be vilified as if she is some kind of lone offender. People will rail about her 18 different supplements … but without knowing (or having any way to know) how many questionable supplements their own favorite player is taking. (Guess what … probably plenty.)

Every single player is looking to maximize their physical capabilities and endurance on the court. Sharapova made an inconceivable mistake in missing the banning of the drug she had been taking. But other than that, you can bet she is not a true outlier.


Humble Rafa Says:

Can we put a screaming machine in every women’s match in honor of Shreikapova. I miss that scream.


mem Says:

spot on SG:

tennis is going downhill in part because of writers and commentators like sean randall. they are blatantly bias, lack objectivity, unprofessional and full of resentment for certain players! they twist the truth and in many cases flat out lie to protect their favorite players. this article suggests that what sharapova has done amounts to, “no big deal, it wasn’t intentional.” did sean even mention that she also tested positive again on Feb 2 out-of-competition. her intentions are clear. she knowingly, deliberately set out to deceive, and now she has the audacity to give these lame explanations. truth is, she has violated antidoping policy and deserves a more stringent sentence, like 4-years. of course she is the darling of the wta so writers like randall suggests she should get a slap on the wrist which is equivalent to a 6-month ban. had it been serena Williams, i guarantee you sean randall would have taken a much stronger approach. had it been serena, we all know that it’s very possible that her titles, everything she has achieved would have been stripped. she would have been given the maximum sentence. that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if novak djokovic is next. the truth has a way of coming out. some people think that if enough people use their platforms to cover for a certain player, the truth will never be revealed, but truth is stronger than a lie; it will rise in the end.


jane Says:

keeping it secret from her whole team as well as off entry forms is damaging evidence.


Ruby Says:

I hope some of you will do enough research to realize the when WADA did sample testing for Meldonium prior to its banning they found that multiple professional tennis players were using it. Not just Sharapova.

The only difference between Sharapova and the others is that she failed to stop taking it, probably because she was living inside her own bubble of denial, sure, but prior to that, she was doing nothing different from other players on the tour … who will never be named or be banned.

Does she deserve to pay for her mistake? Of course she does. But this painting of her as some kind of doping monster is just laughable given that Meldonium was being used by many.


Milos Says:

To play the devils advocate, she listed Meldronate herself at AO. That proves that she thought it was legal (no one would brag about doping on their official list of medications).


mem Says:

Ruby,

what are you talking about? sharapova made a choice; she chose to be careless and secretive. she made herself look suspicious. if certain players are able to violate the policy without consequences, then, throw the policy out the window and allow every player to do whatever they want. the rules are the rules and they should apply to every athlete regardless. are you suggesting that because sharapova wasn’t the only one tested positive, she should be given a pass or a lighter ban? everyone who tested positive should suffer consequences.


BBB Says:

I don’t like Sharapova.

But if a drug isn’t banned, then it’s permitted. I don’t care how secretive she was. It seems irrelevant. If she listed it on the forms for the AO, then it seems she was not actually hiding it in the one way that really matters: official disclosures.

Doping essentially represents a strict liability regime. That means you’re going to get a severe penalty unless you can persuade the powers that be that there are mitigating circumstances. Here, there were none. Whatever happened before January 1 is only relevant for purposes of reducing her penalty, and it seems clear enough this wasn’t a medical problem, and thus the incentives to mitigate are not there.

I have a hard time calling her a cheater when the drug was known and not prohibited for the bulk of the time she took it.


chrisford1 Says:

“To play the devils advocate, she listed Meldronate herself at AO. That proves that she thought it was legal.”

Milos, that was the story her publicist gave when news was coming out, but the ITF findings were she failed to list it in any drug use declaration sheet 2014-2016.

Her PR person’s spin appears bogus.


Ruby Says:

@Mem, what am I talking about? I’m talking about the facts that WADA does not just ban a drug outright, typically. They spend time researching how many people are using the drug and whether they believe it is a legitimate problem. They were testing players for Meldoinum for more than a year before the ban to see if many were using it.

Here is what they found: many players other than Sharapova were using Meldonium. Those players are off the hook if they stopped in 2016, and we will never even know who they are. You can’t prosecute them because they committed no violations. Sharapova’s mistake was that she did not stop in January of 2016, which no one I can find believes was intentional, just poor management.

You can say she was secretive or whatever. So are all players secretive about their regimens, most of which never see the light of day. You’re getting to look at Sharapova’s life history of supplement use only because of these proceedings. No one else is under that microscope, and I can assure you that if they were, many would look suspicious … and worse. In fact, many people are currently using drugs and supplements that WADA will likely ban in the future. That’s how it works!

But go ahead and believe that Sharapova is the evil doper who was ruining tennis and now everything is just hunky dory. That’s the whole point of this exercise anyway.

For me, this has exactly zero to do with Sharapova. I’m not a particular fan of her tennis but I’m dismayed by scapegoating. I saw it happen to rider after rider in the cycling world — each tarred with the horrible “doper” label by the supposedly righteous and clean until the truth finally came out: they were all doing it and no one was righteous and clean at all.


BJ Says:

Other tennis players have gotten longer or equal suspensions for less. Martina Hingis for marijuana, remember? She does not have any proof of a current medical ailment requiring this drug. She ignored the rules. She got what she deserved. I think she actually got preferential treatment. Can’t believe NIKE is still on board with her. Others would have been dropped like a hot potato. I actually liked her competitive spirit but won’t miss her shouts after every ball hit.


BBB Says:

I think Hingis had cocaine in her system?


James Says:

These cheats should be banned. Many of them are Russian, in almost every sport. The ban should be for life, for such a wilful blatant performance enhancing drug use.


mem Says:

Rudy,

how do you know other players are off the hook? where is your documentation? you are trying to justify something that is unjustifiable.
apparently, you don’t have a clue what you are talking about. simply put, sharapova tested positive in January for a banned substance. it was her job to know the drug had been banned. you are quite gullible if you think she is being completely honest in her explanations. she tested positive in January and then again in February; does that sound like a mistake? she is arrogant! she is a millionaire; she pays people to know when and what drugs are banned. whose fault is it if she thinks she is so above reproach that she doesn’t have to be conscientious about keeping up with antidoping procedures & regulations. that is her responsibility. bottom line, the drug was banned, she tested positive, she deserved to serve a stiff punishment; end of story.


Humble Rafa Says:

She is a doper. That part is clear when you read the entire document.
At least she has a body she can make a living with.


jane Says:

Reports of Positive Test Dog Varvara Lepchenko

so did she serve a silent ban?

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/25/sports/tennis/reports-of-positive-test-dog-varvara-lepchenko.html?_r=1


Wog Boy Says:

jane,

Thanks for that, if that artical is correct than I have to agree with Ruby.


Okiegal Says:

I think Andre had cocaine in his system too…..according to his own book…..how did he do cocaine and it not show up? This is by his own admission. I think I would have kept that little tidbit of info up sleeve…..I couldn’t believe he admitted to it…..


Markus Says:

Sharapova is a liar in addition to being a doper. What I don’t understand is why ITF says she did it “unintentionally”. I find that finding inconsistent consisting the way she concealed taking it and how she takes in prior to matches and training. What was unintentional there?


Markus Says:

My only conclusion is ITF is giving her a slap on the wrist because she is a tennis star and wants her to come back as soon as possible. She will humiliate herself when she comes back and starts losing to a lot of players.


Vami Says:

Not sure if these links have already been posted here or not:
https://goo.gl/aZlUU6
https://goo.gl/mlPphC


skeezer Says:

From jane link;

“There have been more than 300 positive tests this year for meldonium, a heart medication that was frequently used as a supplement in Russia. ”

mat4,, so if this drug lets say is NOT an enhancer or an advantage, why were there 300 positive tests this year of athletes taking it? Why would they take i? Does it give them a high?


Humble Rafa Says:

There have been more than 300 positive tests this year for meldonium, a heart medication that was frequently used as a supplement in Russia. ”

Tennis attracts players with heart problems. That’s the reason.


leo Says:

@skeezer, the answer is in the quote? It’s frequently used as a supplement in Russia. We could argue whether it should be allowed to be taken as a supplement…


BBB Says:

Markus – they found that she intended to use the stuff for performance enhancing reasons, but because she didn’t know meldonium was banned, she did not intentionally *break the rule*. As the breaking of the rule was unintentional, she got the 2 year ban instead of 4.


lyle nubbins Says:

Maria has always bugged me because of her shrieking and her mindless bashing style, but one thing I respected was that she was great at pulling out three set matches. I wonder how much of that was due to this PED.


Baa Says:

Hingis and Maria couldn’t serve or move without pain, so they thought
they could sneak in at least 1 drug and pretend that they did nothing wrong.
Maria went from zero to hero at the French open.
Suddenly, her speed dramatically increased in 2 years!
Hingis obviously declined so badly that she could only compete in doubles since age 28.


RZ Says:

@Okie – I think the story with Agassi was crystal meth, and it was found out, but he called the ATP and gave some story and they ignored/covered it up. Something like that.


BBB Says:

Lyle, of the many disturbing things in the findings, one is that she tailored her intake based on the matches she was playing.


Bruce Says:

Sharapova has made millions in this big business. She is not a fool and tried her luck. Now she has to pay and will be replaced quite quickly. There will be no next time but others can learn a lesson. Great that the tennis chiefs gave her the chop.


Ruby Says:

@Skeezer:

“so if this drug lets say is NOT an enhancer or an advantage, why were there 300 positive tests this year of athletes taking it? Why would they take i? Does it give them a high?”

No, they take it for performance enhancement, just like they take all kinds of other supplements, legal drugs and substances such as high-dose caffeine that are likely or proven performance enhancers. That’s what athletes do. They use any legal advantage they can. Are people here really so naive that they think the top male and female athletes are thriving on Gatorade and the occasional Advil?

The point is that it was not simply Sharapova who was using Meldonium for performance enhancement for years. Many other athletes, including tennis players, were using it. Sharapova simply did not stop in January 2016 for whatever reason and others did.

The degree to which she should be punished therefore depends on the degree to which you believe she was trying to beat the drug testing and “get away with it” or she simply was too caught up in her own little bubble to even realize a drug she used legally for years had been banned. I don’t know the answer but I do know there is no evidence whatsoever that she attempted to beat the test. No masking agents were found.

So how different is Sharapova from a person who used Meldonium in 2013 or 2014 but faces no consequences for using what was then a legal drug?

She certainly should be punished. I don’t think anyone disagrees on that. It’s a debate over degree. Of course, people’s individual hatreds of certain players comes into this discussion on a tennis board, but that should be irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the real situation or stopping doping in tennis.


Annie Says:

The drug was not considered illegal until January of this year. So all of you w/your theories that she was doping all these years & kept it a secret…blah blah blah. Guessing you don’t like her so you have all jumped on the band wagon.

Andre Agassi revealed in his biography that he took recreational drugs w/a friend BUT when he tested positive for the drug…he LIED & said “Oh I must have picked up my friend’s drink which had the illegal drug in it by mistake” AND they believed his lie BECAUSE after all…he was Andre Agassi.

I recommend you all get off your high horses!


James Says:

Russian athletes taking drugs – why is anyone surprised, just because its sugarpova? She is guilty as hell.

Top story: Federer, Djokovic Lead Heavily Favored European Team Laver Cup This Weekend