The Court of Arbitration for Sport announced that is has reduced Maria Sharapova’s doping suspension from two years to 15 months, allowing the Russian to return to tennis on April 26, 2017 and be availble to play three of the last four Grand Slams next year.
Sharapova was suspended from the tour after testing positive for the drug meldonium at the Australian Open. She was given a 2-year ban from the sport in June.
Sharapova kept taking the drug at the start of 2016 after it had been announced the drug was going to be prohibited at the start of the new year. Sharapova argued she and her agent, IMG’s Max Eisenbud, made the mistake of not knowing of the change. And she admitted to confusion over the brand name vs the substance itself (mildronate vs meldonium).
CAS agreed but still stated Sharapova was responsible for knowing the Prohibited List, however cited the ITF for not better notifying players of changes and they did not agree with many of the findings of the independent ITF Tribunal.
“The Panel finds that that the Player’s fault was not significant,” they said.
“Where the Player fell short, however, was in her failure to monitor or supervise in any way whether and how IMG was meeting the anti-doping obligations imposed on an athlete when IMG agreed to assist her. She failed to discuss with Mr Eisenbud what needed to be done to check the continued availability of Mildronate (as opposed to the procedure to check new substances she was prescribed), to put him in contact with Dr Skalny to understand the nature of the Skalny products, to understand whether Mildronate was the name of the product or the substance, and whether he had made the necessary confirmation each year that the product had not been added to the Prohibited List.
“For these reasons, the Player’s fault is greater than the minimum degree of fault falling within NSF, but as noted less than Significant Fault. Accordingly, the Panel has determined, under the totality of the circumstances, that a sanction of fifteen (15) months is appropriate here given her degree of fault.”
Calling it one of the happiest days of her career, Sharapova responded to the ruling:
I’ve gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April.
In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back. Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court.
I have learned from this, and I hope the ITF has as well. CAS concluded that “the Panel has determined it does not agree with many of the conclusions of the [ITF] Tribunal…”
I have taken responsibility from the very beginning for not knowing that the over-the-counter supplement I had been taking for the last ten years was no longer allowed. But I also learned how much better other Federations were at notifying their athletes of the rule change, especially in Eastern Europe where Mildronate is commonly taken by millions of people.
Now that this process is over, I hope the ITF and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other Federations did, so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through.
And to my fans, I thank you so much for living and breathing so many of these tough months together. During this time, I have learned the true meaning of a fan and I am so fortunate to have had your support.
I’m coming back soon and I can’t wait!
When she returns, Sharapova will not have played a pro match in 15 months, will have just turned 30 and will not have a ranking. But the former No. 1 will have access to wildcards which, if given by tournaments, will get her into main draws until her ranking improves.
Sharapova, who turns 30 on April 19, will be eligible to play starting on April 26, however the first week of events she will be able to receive wildcards for are on May 1 in Rabat and Prague.
And then, how willing will tournaments like the French Open and Wimbledon be to giving her wildcards into their events?
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