Maria Sharapova’s recent revelations that she failed a drugs test in January 2016 seems to have pulled the rug out from under the feet of tennis followers everywhere. After a ten year association with melodium, a drug used to help cardiac issues and angina which would have surely blighted her career for the past decade, the drug became a banned substance.
Even then, almost a full 2 months after she discovered she had failed the test, she stood up and told the world about it, and faced the subsequent furore that followed. Serena Williams praised Sharapova for her bravery in revealing her drugs test failure. Whilst this might be a little bit over emotional a reaction from Williams, it does indicate sympathy from the world number 1, a sympathy which her colleagues and critics would do well to join her in.
For Sharapova, it would appear she did not take this drug for her own athletic edge on her competitors. Had she done it to the same extent as Lance Armstrong, and subsequently won a mass of Grand Slams and singles titles in a small period of time, the blowback and critical response put on her would have been justified. As it is, she states she took this drug to prevent a serious issue with her cardiac output, such an issue detrimental to her own performance. Results indicate her best form came in 2004, before she began taking meldonium. Does this therefore indicate that her meldonium intake gives her an edge over the competition?
Her news comes at a time when tennis is facing its more fierce assessment to date. Merely months ago, there were whispers of match fixing bribes being offered to some of the biggest names in contemporary tennis. World number 1 Novak Djokovic told of a $200,000 bribe he was offered to throw a match back in 2006, whilst other big names have come forward to the Tennis Integrity Unit to report suspicions. Although others like Roger Federer have vehemently suggested the allegations to be far-fetched, it was enough for the public to look at tennis in a whole new eye. For Sharapova to reveal this news now ensures ramifications for her and tennis for a long time to come.
So, are the responses directed at Sharapova fair and justified? Yes and no. Certainly the decision by her well known sponsors of Nike, TAG Heuer, and Porsche to distance themselves from her at this time seems fair enough. Whilst they, like the rest of us, only know Sharapova’s version of events, they ultimately have to keep their own reputation completely clean. Therefore, they cannot be seen to endorse a pro athlete whose reputation within the sport is questionable. It’s simply business.
However, the possibility of a ban is a little more of a balanced opinion. She may very well have taken a drug very recently labelled ‘performance enhancing’, however, in the preceding ten years, her stats indicate they did not give her an edge over her competitors in the same fashion as Armstrong’s did. On the other hand – they have to be seen to make an example of an athlete who violated a rule of the game. Sharapova may have been free and honest about her shortcomings, but she may very well have set herself up to be the example of tennis’ strict ruling on drugs.