Here's how Maria Sharapova can avoid any ban whatsoever despite her positive test
When is a doping offence not a doping offence? When you can retrospectively apply for a TUE, of course.
A TUE stands for a therapeutic use exemption and an athlete can apply for it if they need to use a banned substance in order to treat a legitimate medical condition.
Usually, athletes apply for a TUE when they first discover they need it but a WADA rule also allows them to be granted after a positive test if the athlete has the required medical files to back up their claim.
Maria Sharapova said last night that she has used the substance meldonium - which has been on the banned list since January 1st 2016 - since it was prescribed by a family doctor to treat persistent illness back in 2004. The reason she continued to take it after the turn of the year was because she apparently neglected to read the updated list of prohibited substances when it was emailed around by the tennis authorities. Automated emails usually don't contain much information of use, to be fair.
Anyway, if Sharapova can prove that the use of the drug was to treat a legitimate medical condition, then she may be granted a TUE and escape a ban.
Article 4.3.b of the World Anti-Doping Code International Standard - Therapeutic Use Exemptions says that a retrospective TUE can be awarded if “treatment of an acute medical condition was necessary”.
So if Sharapova has files that prove that meldonium was needed in order for her to compete at her natural level, she needs to get onto her doctor right quick.
It could be the difference between the Russian retiring in disgrace or being allowed to play on the tour for a few more years.
A TUE was previously been used by two-time Tour de France-winning cyclist Chris Froome, who previously suffered from the parasitic disease bilharzia.