LOS ANGELES (AFP) - United States sports goods giant Nike said on Wednesday that it will resume its sponsorship of Maria Sharapova, insisting the banned Russian star had not intentionally committed a doping offence.
In a short statement issued just hours after Sharapova was rocked by a two-year ban for meldonium use, Nike said it was lifting a suspension imposed in March after her drug case was first announced.
Nike said Wednesday's decision was taken after acknowledgement by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) tribunal that she had not deliberately broke doping rules.
"The ITF Tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules," the Nike statement said. "Maria has always made her position clear, has apologised for her mistake and is now appealing the length of the ban.
"Based on the decision of the ITF and their factual findings, we hope to see Maria back on court and will continue to partner with her."
Sharapova, 29, has vowed to fight the ITF suspension which is threatening to end her career, describing her punishment as "unfairly harsh."