“I made a huge mistake. I have let my fans down, and let the sport down.”
Five time grand slam champion and former world number one, Maria Sharapova, has revealed she failed a prohibited substance test at the Australian Open in January.
The 28 year-old called a press conference, held this morning, sparking rumors of her retirement due to a string of injuries she has sustained over the last few years. But she instead announced she’d tested positive for the drug Meldonium, a heart medication typically used to treat angina and myocardial infarction, which she’s been taking since 2006 for health issues on the advice of a family doctor.
“I had several health issues going on at the time, I was getting sick very often, I had a deficiency in magnesium, I had irregular EKG results, and I had a family history of diabetes,” the tennis star told press.
However, as of January 1st, 2016, the drug was added to the list of prohibited substances by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Although Sharapova received an email with the new list of banned medications, she reportedly neglected to check it.
“I received an email on 22 December from Wada about the changes happening to the banned list and you can see prohibited items – and I didn’t click on that link,” she stated.
“I made a huge mistake. I have let my fans down, and let the sport down that I have been playing since the age of four that I love so deeply. I know that with this I face consequences and I don’t want to end my career this way. I really hope to be given another chance to play this game.”
Regardless of the fact Sharapova had been taking the prescribed medication for a decade, the media and the tennis world has had some hard line reactions to the scenario.
“Still stunned that nobody on Shazza team checked new list from WADA. Players are responsible but this is a big oversight on team as well,” tweeted tennis star Andy Murray’s former coach Brad Gilbert.
British tennis player Alex Ward added to the commentary, “Hold on, this is weird. WADA issue their list of banned substances and you don’t look? Nor do management?”
The most damning was controversial former tennis prodigy Jennifer Capriati, who faced drug charges for marijuana and other substances during her turbulent career.
“I am extremely angry and disappointed. I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what. I had to throw in the towel and suffer,” Capriati tweeted,
“I didn’t have a team of high priced doctors that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up.”
The world press has been similarly harsh, alleging Sharapova’s oversight was not a mistake, and that the fact the tennis player and her team didn’t check the list is suspicious.
“Here, we have a global star, a woman with annual earnings of around $30 million and many more millions of followers on social media. Some will ask how her legion of agents and staff allowed her to miss the announcement,” writes journalist for London’s The Telegraph, Simon Briggs.
“Others will no doubt question how convincing her defense really is.”
BBC journalist Andrew Castle also weighed in, saying the timing could not be worse for tennis, considering the allegations of match-fixing at this year’s Australian Open.
“After the betting revelations, this Sharapova news is a hammer blow to the sport,” Castle stated.
Regardless of the facts behind the scandal, it would seem unfair for the press to immediately jump on the judgment bandwagon. Maria Sharapova has not put a foot wrong since she exploded onto the scene after winning Wimbledon at the age of 17 in 2004. She is a thoroughly likable, dignified female athlete, and deserves the benefit of the doubt.
To tear her to shreds on International Women’s Day – a time for society to recognize the great advances and achievements women like Sharapova have made in the face of great inequality – is short-sighted, and yet another reminder of how far women have left to go to be treated with the same respect as their male peers. Most importantly, as with every individual facing charges, Sharapova’s situation should be handled under the assumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, not trial by a thousand public cuts.
Comment: Do you think the media is being fair in its treatment of Maria Sharapova?