Sharapova hit with two-year drug ban

Maria Sharapova will miss August's Olympics in Rio while the earliest Grand Slam she could next compete in will be the French Open in 2018.
Maria Sharapova will miss August's Olympics in Rio while the earliest Grand Slam she could next compete in will be the French Open in 2018.

Athlete to appeal, even as country's sports minister is dragged into widening scandal

PARIS • Maria Sharapova has been banned for two years after failing a drug test at the Australian Open, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced yesterday.

But the Russian player said she will appeal the suspension before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The 29-year-old's suspension is backdated to Jan 26 this year, when she tested positive for the prohibited substance meldonium.

The five-time Grand Slam champion will miss August's Olympics in Rio while the earliest Grand Slam she could next compete in will be the French Open in 2018.

She was provisionally suspended in early March after revealing she had tested positive for meldonium at this year's Australian Open.

The Russian said she had been using the substance, under the name of mildronate, after it was prescribed by her doctor in 2006 to deal with health issues such as an irregular heartbeat and a history of diabetes in her family.

She responded to the ruling with a statement on her Facebook account: "The ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional... (But) I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension... I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"I have missed playing tennis and I have missed my amazing fans... 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."

News of the ban could not have come at a worse time for Russian sport.

The country's preparations for Saturday's Euro 2016 football clash with England are set to be hit by allegations of a doping cover-up in the country's Premier League.

German investigators will early this morning (Singapore time) claim that Vitaly Mutko, the Russian Sports Minister and president of the Russian Football Union, stopped a doping offence in the top flight of Russian football from being made public.

Their documentary, titled The Secret World Of Doping: Showdown For Russia, was set to be aired by German public broadcaster ARD last night in Germany.

It was made by a group of journalists led by doping expert Hajo Seppelt, who blew the lid on state-sponsored doping in athletics in 2014.

The new revelations could be particularly damaging for Russia because the country will be hosting the 2018 football World Cup.

Last month, drug testers took samples from all 11 starters for Rostov after they won 3-1 at Dynamo Moscow.

Jiri Dvorak, Fifa's medical chief, said: "There were rumours in the media about Rostov ordering meldonium." He added that Rostov, owned by the regional government, had been "absolutely compliant" with the testers and all the tests had proved negative.

Yesterday, Mutko, who also sits on Fifa's executive committee, said that allegations he was directly implicated in doping offences were an attempt to sway a ruling on Russia's ban from international athletics ahead of the Rio Olympics.

"The aim of this film is obvious: to influence the committee on the reinstatement of Russian athletics on the eve of its meeting," he was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said all doping allegations had to be supported with evidence and unfounded accusations would be treated as "absolute slander".

European football's governing body Uefa said earlier that it will be paying "special attention" to the Russian team for potential drug violations during the month-long Euro 2016 tournament.

"We are aware of what happened in Russia. We have been paying special attention to the Russian team," Uefa's head of medical and anti-doping Marc Vouillamoz said.

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 09, 2016, with the headline 'Sharapova hit with two-year drug ban'. Print Edition | Subscribe