LONDON: Russian superstar Maria Sharapova was on Wednesday handed a two-year doping ban but insisted she will appeal the suspension which could effectively end one of sport’s most celebrated careers.
Sharapova, 29, tested positive for the controversial banned medication meldonium during January’s Australian Open.
A statement on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) website said “an Independent Tribunal” had “found that Maria Sharapova committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation” and consequently had “disqualified the affected results and imposed a period of ineligibility of two years, commencing on 26 January 2016”.
Sharapova blasted the ban as “unfairly harsh” in a statement on her Facebook page.
“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension,” fumed Sharapova.
“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.”
Sharapova slammed the ITF for spending “tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules” before adding that “the tribunal concluded I did not”.
The US-based Russian failed a drugs test on January 26 and was charged with an anti-doping violation on March 2.
In a packed press conference in Los Angeles a few days later, she admitted to taking meldonium but said she hadn’t realised it was on the banned substance list.
Meldonium was added to the world anti-doping WADA list on January 1. Sharapova said she’d been taking it for 10 years to help treat illnesses, a heart issue and a magnesium deficiency.
Her ban is backdated to January 26 and due to end on January 25, 2018.
She has had her results from the Australian Open annulled and has forfeited her tournament prize money and ranking points.
WTA chief executive Steve Simon said the organisation hoped the controversy will be quickly resolved.
“It is important at all times for players to be aware of the rules and to follow them. In this case, Maria has taken responsibility for her mistake from the outset,” said Simon in a statement. “The WTA supports the process that the ITF and Maria have followed.
The ITF has made its ruling and, under the Tennis Anti-Doping Program, the decision may be appealed to the Court Arbitration for Sport.
“The WTA will continue to follow this closely and we hope it will be resolved as soon as possible.”
Sharapova, a former world number one whose ranking has slumped to 26, has won 35 career titles including five Grand Slams the Australian Open (2008), French Open (2012, 2014), Wimbledon (2004) and US Open (2006).
Her win at Wimbledon in 2004 when she was just 17 launched her into the world of mega-million dollar deals and A-list celebrity.
Her rags-to-riches story captured the imagination of the public who lapped up the tale of her leaving the Soviet Union as a child with her penniless father to live and train in Florida.
She had been the world’s highest earning sportswoman for 11 years until this week when, according to Forbes Magazine, she was overtaken by bitter rival Serena Williams.
Williams earned $28.9 million over the past 12 months, the financial magazine reported in an article posted on its website. -AFP