LONDON • Maria Sharapova's racket manufacturer Head has questioned whether meldonium should have been added to the World Anti-doping Agency's list of banned substances, after the five-time Grand Slam winner was provisionally suspended for taking the drug.
On Thursday, the Dutch company admitted it is looking to extend its contract with the Russian tennis star despite her positive drug test at the Australian Open in January.
Nike, TAG Heuer and Porsche have already distanced themselves from the world No. 7 since her positive test was revealed on Monday.
But a statement released by Head's chairman Johan Eliasch yesterday asked whether meldonium, which is normally used to treat ischaemia - a lack of blood flow to parts of the body in cases of angina or heart failure - should have been added to the banned list on Jan 1.
A statement read: "As a company, Head has a strict anti-doping policy. We believe the use of Wada-banned substances with the intent to enhance performance or gain unfair advantages must be sanctioned. In Maria's Sharapova's case, we have analysed the facts and circumstances in great detail in order to reach a firm conclusion about our association with her in light of her recent announcement.
"In the absence of any evidence of any intent by Maria of enhancing her performance or trying to gain an unfair advantage through the use of mildronate (another name for meldonium), we conclude this falls into the category of 'honest' mistakes.
YOU MADE YOUR BED, NOW LIE IN IT
Taking a prescription drug that you don't necessarily need, but just because it's legal, that's wrong, clearly. If you're taking performance- enhancing drugs and you fail a drug test, you have to get suspended.
ANDY MURRAY, on Sharapova's failed drugs test.
"Furthermore, we question Wada's decision to add meldonium to its banned substances; we believe the correct action by Wada would have been to impose a dosage limitation only. In the circumstances, we would encourage Wada to release scientific studies which validates its claim that meldonium should be a banned substance.
The statement added: "Head is proud to stand behind Maria, now and into the future and we intend to extend her contract."
In response, Wada president Craig Reedie said: "Perhaps people should recall an exercise in scientific research, followed by a year of monitoring before the List Committee decided to place the product on the Prohibited List."
On Thursday, British star Andy Murray criticised Head, his own racket sponsor, for promising to extend its sponsorship of Sharapova.
The Scot, who reportedly has a basic £5 million (S$9.8 million)- a-year deal plus bonuses for winning leading titles with Head, said: "I think it's a strange stance. I personally wouldn't have responded like that."
Murray, who has regularly been outspoken on the issue of drugs in sport, said: "I think taking a prescription drug that you don't necessarily need, but just because it's legal, that's wrong, clearly.
"If you're taking performance-enhancing drugs and you fail a drug test, you have to get suspended."
And he does not think enough is being done to catch the cheats. The Scot revealed that he has been tested only twice this year, this after insisting last year that tennis should be more vigilant in ensuring players are not taking any performance-enhancing substances.
"I think all sports can do more," he said. "Last year I got tested loads whereas this year it's only been twice, and we're three months into the year. That is clearly not enough."
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN