Verdict on Sharapova holds wide relevance

Maria Sharapova was only six when her talent caught the eye of Martina Navratilova, who says the suspended Russian "wasn't trying to cheat".
Maria Sharapova was only six when her talent caught the eye of Martina Navratilova, who says the suspended Russian "wasn't trying to cheat".PHOTO: REUTERS

Meldonium decision a prolonged process but must be uniform for all athletes, says Navratilova

Whatever the verdict on the doping issue surrounding Maria Sharapova, tennis legend Martina Navratilova hopes it will come soon - and be applied consistently to all athletes.

The 18-time Grand Slam singles champion said yesterday that the long deliberation since news of Sharapova testing positive for meldonium came to light in early March is indication that the authorities themselves are uncertain.

"I'm not sure why it's taking so long," said Navratilova, who is in town to help launch ticket sales for the Oct 23-30 WTA Finals season-ender in Singapore.

"Clearly there was some disconnect between making clear that this (meldonium) is now illegal, and also the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), by their own admission, didn't know how long that stuff stays in your system.

"They just didn't think it through well enough, and that's why I think it's taking so long to make a decision. Whatever they decide to do, I think they'll have to be pretty uniform with all the other athletes.

"I'm pretty sure I'm speaking on behalf of the athletes that they wish they would just figure out what to do so that they know where they stand."

CASE NEEDS TO BE RESOLVED

I'm pretty sure I'm speaking on behalf of the athletes that they wish they would just figure out what to do so that they know where they stand.

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA,tennis legend.

A disciplinary hearing on Sharapova's case has been scheduled with a ruling possible before Wimbledon starts on June 27, although it has not been revealed when and where the hearing will be held.

The Russian tennis star was provisionally suspended after announcing that she tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open.

She said she had been taking the drug since it was prescribed in 2006 and did not know that it was added to Wada's list of banned substances in January.

It later emerged that Wada is unable to establish how quickly the drug clears the system, opening the door for bans to be lifted.

What is certain, though, is Navratilova's staunch defence of the player whom she first talent-spotted as a six-year-old at a tennis clinic in Moscow.

One of the few tennis figures who publicly backed Sharapova, the 59-year-old said: "I'm very sure Maria didn't know this thing was on the list, otherwise she would never have taken it. We're so paranoid taking anything that's on that list that players don't even take over-the-counter stuff unless they know it's 100 per cent safe.

"Maria made a big mistake taking stuff that's on the list, needless to say, she should've known. But there's no doubt in my mind that she wasn't trying to cheat."

Russian officials remain keen for Sharapova, a silver medallist at the 2012 London Games, to play at the Rio Olympic Games in August.

While she never got a chance to play at the Olympics, Navratilova said she would have had a good shot at the doubles gold had she competed at the 1988 Seoul Games.

"I was so tired after playing the US Open that I just couldn't imagine getting on a plane to Korea," she said. "I wanted to play in Barcelona (in 1992) but they changed the rules for eligibility.

"The Olympic year really changes the calendar for a player. For some, it's bigger than the Grand Slams, but I think for most players it's kind of the icing on the cake.

"It's just tricky to schedule yourself and it just depends on what your priorities are. It wasn't as big a deal then as it's become now."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'Verdict on Sharapova holds wide relevance'. Print Edition | Subscribe