””

Commentary

Evasive attitude and veil of secrecy a further indictment of Sharapova

There is a revealing line in the damning 33-page ruling against Maria Sharapova when her former doctor instructs her that "during games of special importance, you can increase your mildronate dose to 3-4 pills (1 hr before the match)".

Games of special importance? It seems an extremely bizarre way to prescribe a substance supposedly aimed at treating a specific condition, rather than enhancing performance.

This is the same doctor who had Sharapova taking 18 remedies at the age of 18, and as many as 30 five years later. All that jumping around the court with so many pills inside her, it is a surprise that she did not rattle.

The image of Sharapova gulping down this elaborate cocktail of medicine is deeply troubling, but the case against her comes only partly down to what she swallowed, that fateful meldonium at the Australian Open, as much as the honesty, integrity and credibility of the five-time Grand Slam winner and her team.

Reputations are shredded by the judgment, and even more so when we recall her press conference in March, which was so foolishly greeted by many as a PR triumph.

"I take full responsibility for it," she said then of her "mistake". What rot.

 "I did not feel it was a huge responsibility of mine to write all those medications down... I did not think it was of high importance."
Maria Sharapova, banned for two years for using the banned substance meldonium, said: "I did not feel it was a huge responsibility of mine to write all those medications down... I did not think it was of high importance." PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

On Wednesday, we learnt that Sharapova had tried to hide behind the failings of her manager who, in turn, tried to suggest that he had failed to catch up on meldonium's place on the banned list because marriage difficulties had led him to cancel a Caribbean holiday.

You can decide if that is taking full responsibility or pathetic evasion - the three members of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme panel had no doubt.

For his failed attempt to be the fall guy, Max Eisenbud, vice-president of the IMG sports management group, was labelled "implausible", his evidence "wholly incredible" and his behaviour "casual and inept".

"I have been very open and honest about many things," Sharapova also said in March.

But we discover that she had kept her continued meldonium use secret from her coach, trainer, physio, nutritionist and the WTA doctors that she consulted - and, most significantly, never mentioned it on her doping control disclosure forms throughout 2014 and 2015.

She had kept her continued meldonium use secret from her coach, trainer, physio, nutritionist and the WTA doctors that she consulted - and, most significantly, never mentioned it on her doping control disclosure forms throughout 2014 and 2015.

With transparency, she might have faced a ban of six months. If she had been open and honest, she might have been shown mercy but her approach was shockingly casual.

It is astonishing to hear that Sharapova told the panel that "I did not feel it was a huge responsibility of mine to write all those medications down... I did not think it was of high importance." Her negligence is a cautionary tale for any professional athlete.

"I know that I face consequences," was another comment from that supposed PR masterclass. But how ludicrous that looks too, when her response on Wednesday to a two-year ban was defiance, not contrition.

Had she read the judgment? She appeared to be completely ignorant of the reality that she could easily have been banished for four years, which is what the International Tennis Federation (ITF) had pressed for.

Her only defence was ignorance of meldonium's place on the banned list, which was accepted. After all this publicity, presumably she will be the only athlete allowed that grace. Whatever the consequence for her career at 29, she should count herself lucky.

Instead, she tried to blame the ITF for failing to make her aware of changes to the prohibited list; an argument that was thrown out along with the crass attempt by her camp to claim that a suspension would disproportionately affect her by causing a substantial loss of earnings and sponsorships, exclusion from the 2016 Olympics and irreparable damage to her reputation. Tough.

Her case is resolved, pending an appeal, but it does still leave hanging the issue of whether Sharapova, and so many athletes, should have been taking meldonium in the first place.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2016, with the headline 'Evasive attitude and veil of secrecy a further indictment of Sharapova'. Print Edition | Subscribe