Tennis: Sharapova won't gain from drug confusion

Maria Sharapova addresses the media regarding a failed drug test at the Australian Open at The LA Hotel Downtown on March 7, 2016.
Maria Sharapova addresses the media regarding a failed drug test at the Australian Open at The LA Hotel Downtown on March 7, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON • Maria Sharapova yesterday attended an International Tennis Federation (ITF) anti-doping hearing in London, with the Russian facing a possible ban of up to four years for failing a drug test at the Australian Open.

However, a verdict will not be handed down until June, possibly in time for Wimbledon, reported the Press Association (PA).

The five-time Grand Slam champion stunned the world in March when she said she had returned a positive test for meldonium, a Latvian-made heart medication which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (Wada's) banned list from Jan 1.

Hundreds of other athletes have also tested positive for meldonium this year, and Wada admitted last month that their bans might be overturned owing to a lack of clear scientific information on how long the drug takes to be excreted from the body.

The drug's manufacturer said traces could remain in the body for several months depending on dosage, duration of treatment and sensitivity of testing methods.

Wada ruled that samples collected before March 1 below a certain concentration of meldonium could be discarded, as the athlete might be able to prove they had stopped taking it last year.

Belarus' doubles specialist Sergey Betov, who also tested positive at the Australian Open, was cleared by the ITF on those grounds last month. That led some to wrongly speculate that Sharapova, who claimed to have been taking meldonium on doctor's orders for 10 years, could escape without punishment.

But Sharapova, provisionally suspended since March 12, and her lawyer John Haggerty have already admitted the 29-year-old had been taking it throughout January. Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko also told the Russian news agency Tass last month that the concentration of meldonium in her system was above the provisional limit.

As such, the world's highest-paid sportswoman is unlikely to benefit from recent confusion surrounding the drug.

According to PA, Sharapova will try to convince the ITF panel that the "laundry list" of health reasons that Haggerty referred to in March should qualify her for a backdated therapeutic use exemption, or sick note.

Most anti-doping experts believe she faces a ban of between six and 12 months.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline 'Sharapova won't gain from drug confusion'. Print Edition | Subscribe