Dick Pound: Maria Sharapova only has herself to blame

Published: Wednesday 9th March 2016 by The News Editor

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Maria Sharapova has only herself to blame for failing a drugs test, according to former World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound as the Russian former Wimbledon champion faces an uncertain future in the sport and the cost of losing headline sponsors.

Sharapova revealed at a press conference in Los Angeles on Monday she had returned a positive test for meldonium, a substance she had been taking legally taken for 10 years to deal with health issues such as an irregular heartbeat and a history of diabetes in her family, but which was a dded to the WADA banned list at the start of 2016.

The 28-year-old is now waiting to hear what sanctions she will face from the International Tennis Federation, who informed the payer of her positive test on March 2 and confirmed she would be provisionally suspended from March 12 pending an independent tribunal to hear the case.

Sharapova faces a ban of up to four years, but could receive some leniency if she can prove she needed to take the drug for medical purposes.

However, as well as likely sanctions from the ITF, Sharapova also faces a battle to win back lucrative endorsement contracts.

According to Forbes, Sharapova earned some £21million in 2015 which made the Russian the highest-earning female athlete in the world for the last 11 years, with her off-court endorsements dwarfing her income from prize money.

After the news broke, three major sponsors – sportswear giant Nike, watchmaker Tag Heuer and luxury car brand Porsche – all distanced themselves from the tennis superstar.

Pound, the 73-year-old Canadian lawyer who was the first president of WADA and held office from 1999 to 2007, cannot fathom how Sharapova allowed herself to be in this situation, given the high stakes involved, both professionally and financially.

“Running a US Dollars 30million (£21million) business depends on you staying eligible to play tennis. You are taking something on a list, which you have known about for four months. I am sorry, that is a big mistake – of course she should have known,” Pound said in an interview with BBC Sport.

“She is taking something that is not generally permitted in her country of residence (the United States) for medical purposes, so she says, so there must be a doctor following this.”

Meldonium was added to banned list following, according to WADA, ”evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance”.

Sharapova claimed she had not read the updated list of banned substances sent to athletes in December and took ”full responsibility” for her actions.

Pound added: “Any time there is a change to the list, notice is given on 30 September prior to the change. You have October, November, December to get off what you are doing.

“All the tennis players were given notification of it and she has a medical team somewhere. That is reckless beyond description.”

With regard to Sharapova’s sponsors, Nike acted swiftly, suspending its contract with the five-time grand slam champion, while Tag Heuer severed ties altogether and Porsche, who signed the tennis superstar as its first global endorser in 2013, has postponed its sponsorship.

A statement from Nike read: “We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova.

“We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation.”

Among her other sponsors, Evian ostensibly stuck by her while cosmetics firm Avon declined to comment.

Sharapova’s positive test came following her quarter-final defeat against Serena Williams at the Australian Open in January.

World number one Williams has praised Sharapova’s ”courage”, believing her rival has done the right thing to make a public admission of guilt.

Williams told a press conference in New York: ”I think most people were surprised, but most people were happy that she was up front.

“It’s just [about] taking responsibility, which she admitted she was willing to do.

”As Maria says, she’s ready to take responsibility, and that takes a lot of courage and heart.

“She’s always shown courage and heart (in tennis) and it’s no different.”

Published: Wednesday 9th March 2016 by The News Editor

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