Sharapova announced that a few days prior she had received a letter from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) informing her that she had failed a drug test on January 26th, during the Australian Open. The drug she tested positive for was meldonium, a substance Sharapova had been taking for health issues she had been experiencing since 2006, including numerous bouts of the flu, irregular heartbeats, and early indications of diabetes that ran in her family.
Meldonium is a substance manufactured in Latvia and available only in Baltic countries and Russia. It is primarily used to treat a condition called ischaemia, or a lack of blood flow to specific parts of the body. Thus, it increases overall blood flow, making it beneficial to athletes by increasing their exercise capacity.
According to Sharapova, she had been taking the drug for approximately 10 years. The drug had previously not appeared on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of prohibited substances. However, the policy changed on January 1st of this year after evidence had been found of its use as a performance enhancer and Sharapova failed to read the memorandum that had been emailed to all athletes.
Speaking openly of her mistake, Sharapova said that she accepted whatever punishment the ITF would announce, but hoped that this unfortunate event would not mark the end of her career. Known for her meticulousness and discipline both on- and off-the-court, Sharapova’s indiscretion was certainly a surprise.
Many members of the tennis community have voiced varied responses in the week following these developments. Serena Williams in a press conference said that she was surprised about Sharapova’s announcement but that it took a lot of “courage” for her to admit her mistake – a sentiment later echoed by top men’s player Novak Djokovic. On the other hand, Caroline Wozniacki emphasized how important it is to make sure that common medications, even nasal spray, are not on the WADA prohibited substances. Famed American player and commentator John McEnroe said that he finds it difficult to believe that Maria was unaware that she was taking a banned substance, stating that, at the least, someone on her team should have checked the updated list and proceeded accordingly.
The fallout from the admission has been fast and swift: Sharapova’s ban from tennis begins on March 12, but her sponsors are not waiting until then to distance themselves from her brand. Nike, Tag Heuer, and Porsche were among the first to suspend their contracts with the currently highest-paid female athlete.
There is not much information available at the moment, but Maria Sharapova has been active on social media in clarifying false rumors spread amongst the media regarding the memorandum. Her most recent Facebook post says that while she accepts whatever consequences might arise from this situation, she and her legal team are working tirelessly to ensure that she can step out onto a tennis court again in the near future.