Former world number one and five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova may not play professional tennis until January 26th, 2018, pending what she said in a statement will be an immediate appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Today, the International Tennis Federation announced the findings of an independent tribunal, including a two-year suspension backdating to a positive test at the 2016 Australian Open. In its 33-page decision, the tribunal made it clear that, “the ITF accepts that the player did not engage in conduct that she knew constituted an anti-doping rule violation.” (Read the full decision here.)
“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension,” 29-year-old Sharapova said in her statement. “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.”
The decision — in which the tribunal pondered how a top-tier player such as Sharapova with a support team around her took Meldonium, a prohibited substance, to which she admitted — was based off of evidence and arguments presented during a hearing in London on May 18th and 19th.
Meldonium is a Latvian heart disease drug also known as Mildronate — which Sharapova began taking in 2006 on the advice of a doctor — and it was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s List of Prohibited Substances and Methods effective January 1st of this year.
Sharapova’s agent, Max Eisenbud, said in his evidence presentation that, as of 2013, only Sharapova’s father and he knew of her using the substance. “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 himself.”
According to the decision, Eisenbud said that Sharapova would have stopped using Mildronate if anyone on her team learned that it was added to the prohibited list. “He characterizes this as an administrative error, for which he takes the blame.”
The tribunal’s conclusion, however, puts the blame on Sharapova. “If she had not concealed her use of Mildronate from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the contravention would have been avoided,” the decision reads. “She is the sole author of her own misfortune.”