'I will fight this' - Maria Sharapova vows to appeal two-year doping suspension
Maria Sharapova, the five-time tennis Grand Slam champion, has been handed a two-year ban after failing an anti-doping test at the Australian Open in January.
The 29-year-old Russian took the Latvian-made drug meldonium, a commonly used heart disease treatment, for a period of time which overlapped the 1 January 2016 cut-off date, when it was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) banned list.
At an anti-doping hearing in London, Sharapova was informed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) that she would be banned for two years as meldonium is a metabolic modulator which increases stamina and endurance.
It has suggested that Sharapova, who won Wimbledon in 2004, has avoided the maximum four-year ban after Wada admitted earlier this year that scientists could not determine how long the drug remained in the user’s system after it had been taken.
“It is very important for you to understand that, for 10 years, this medicine was not on Wada's banned list and I had been legally taking that medicine,” she said in March.
Sharapova announced on her Facebook page that she will appeal against the ban, which has been backdated to 26 January 2016, at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
"Today with their decision of a two year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional. The tribunal found that I did not seek treatment from my doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance. The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not. You need to know that the ITF asked the tribunal to suspend me for four years - the required suspension for an intentional violation -- and the tribunal rejected the ITF's position.
"While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension. The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
"I have missed playing tennis and I have missed my amazing fans, who are the best and most loyal fans in the world. I have read your letters. I have read your social media posts and your love and support has gotten me through these tough days. I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that's why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.
Former world number one Sharapova admitted to taking meldonium for 10 years after being recommended to do so by a family-approved doctor on medical grounds.
All athletes were informed that the drug had been added to the banned list at the beginning of the calendar year but Sharapova insists she only knew the drug by the name mildronate.
The ITF confirmed that Sharapova failed the drug test on the same day as her quarter-final defeat by Serena Williams in Melbourne, and she was informed of the failed test via letter in March.
An ITF statement said: "An Independent Tribunal appointed under Article 8.1 of the 2016 Tennis Anti-Doping Programme has found that Maria Sharapova committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under Article 2.1 of the Programme and as a consequence has disqualified the affected results and imposed a period of ineligibility of two years, commencing on 26 January 2016.
"At a two-day hearing on 18-19 May 2016, the Independent Tribunal received evidence and heard legal arguments from both parties, and subsequently issued a reasoned decision on 8 June, which is available below.
"The Independent Tribunal determined that Ms. Sharapova should serve a period of ineligibility of two years; Due to her prompt admission of her violation, that period of ineligibility should be back-dated... to commence from 26 January 2016 (the date of sample collection) and so should end at midnight on 25 January 2018.
"Her results at the 2016 Australian Open should be disqualified, with resulting forfeiture of the ranking points and prize money that she won at that event."