Top 10 Need To Know Sharapova Doping Scandal Facts

Script written by Sean Harris She's one of world’s most recognizable athletes, but will the Russian professional tennis player end up being remembered for all the wrong reasons? Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we're counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the Maria Sharapova doping scandal.

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Script written by Sean Harris

Top 10 Need To Know Sharapova Doping Scandal Facts

She’s one of world’s most recognizable athletes, but will the Russian professional tennis player end up being remembered for all the wrong reasons? Welcome to WatchMojo News, the weekly series from where we break down news stories that might be on your radar. In this instalment, we’re counting down 10 crucial facts you should know about the Maria Sharapova doping scandal.

#10: What Is the Sharapova Doping Scandal About?

The Situation

When tennis star Maria Sharapova called a surprise press conference on Monday March 7th, 2016, speculation mounted that she was about to retire. However, headlines took an unexpected turn when Sharapova instead informed the world that she had tested positive for a banned substance. “I wanted to let you know that a few days ago I received a letter from the ITF that I had failed a drug test at the Australian Open,” she said. “I did fail the test,” she continued, “and I take full responsibility for it.”

#9: Who Is Maria Sharapova?
The Star

Russian athlete Maria Sharapova is one of the most successful tennis players of all time, and the world’s highest paid sportswoman as of mid-2015. Ranked world No. 1 in singles by the Women’s Tennis Association on five separate occasions, she was No. 7 in the world when the doping scandal broke. Sharapova has 35 singles titles to her name, as well as five Grand Slam victories – Wimbledon in 2004, the 2006 US Open, the 2008 Australian Open, and the French Open in 2012 and 2014. Away from the court, she’s one of the most famous athletes on the planet, with wide-ranging endorsements, links as a UN Goodwill Ambassador, and her own candy line called Sugarpova.

#8: What Is Meldonium?
The Substance

Meldonium is a prescribed drug, used to address issues with blood flow, including heart conditions. Sharapova, who knew the drug as mildronate, had been taking the substance for 10 years, after she began regularly falling ill with the flu, and a magnesium deficiency. Meldonium is manufactured in Latvia, only distributed in the Baltic region and Russia, and isn’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration in America – where Sharapova has been based for the majority of her career. As it increases blood flow and exercise capacity, meldonium was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances as of January 1st, 2016.

#7: How Severe Is the Punishment?
The Suspension

Sharapova has received an initial suspension from tennis on March 12th, and could face a lengthy ban thereafter. As a first-time offender, she could be banned for up to four years if found to have intentionally ingested a performance-enhancing drug. However, analysts are confident that Sharapova will only be penalized for unintentionally using a prohibited substance, which carries a maximum term of two years. However, given that Meldonium is new on Wada’s banned list, and Sharapova’s previously spotless record, some expect a short-term ban. Sharapova’s lawyer, John Haggerty, said; ‘we are just going through the I.T.F. process to discuss with them why we believe that either no, or a very limited, sanction is required.’

#6: What Was the Reaction of Sponsors?
The Drop

In early March 2016, sportswear giant Nike suspended ties with the star saying, ‘We are saddened and surprised by the news’; sports car manufacturer Porsche also distanced itself saying, ‘until further details emerge and we are able to analyze the situation, we have decided to suspend planned activities’; and luxury watchmaker Tag Heuer, which had been discussing a new contract with Sharapova, has suspended its links. ‘In view of the current situation, the brand has decided not to renew the contract,’ it said. On the other hand, the racquet company that supplies Sharapova, Head has somewhat controversially stood by her. ‘Maria may have made a mistake,’ Head said, ‘but she has earned the benefit of the doubt and we are extending it to her.’

#5: What Was the Reaction on Social Media?
The Intensity

Sharapova’s situation has sparked huge debate on social media, among fans and athletes. The 18-times Grand Slam winner Martina Navratilova called for calm, tweeting, ‘hope this gets cleared up as it seems 2 me to be an honest mistake.’ In contrast, Andy Murray’s ex-coach Brad Gilbert shifted focus to Sharapova’s team; ‘players are responsible but this is a big time oversight on team as well,’ he said. Murray himself has reiterated his firm stance on doping, saying ‘I think all sports can do more.’ While sponsors can use social media response to gauge a scandal such as this, Sharapova has also received support since the news broke. World No. 1 - as of early 2016 - Serena Williams described her as having ‘a lot of courage’, and on March 9th, Sharapova released a thank you letter to her supporters; ‘I’m so proud to call you my fans,’ it read.

#4: Is There a Difference in Sponsors’ Reactions Based on Gender?
The Gap

Sharapova’s case appears to highlight inconsistency in how tainted athletes are dealt with. American sprinter Justin Gatlin, who has twice been banned for doping, signed a deal with Nike in 2015. While Sharapova’s relationship with Nike may similarly continue in the future, the brand acted swiftly to erase association with Sharapova in March 2016, despite her being a first time offender with a newly banned substance. In tennis itself, Andre Agassi’s 1997 failure of a drug test for crystal meth brought extreme leniency, when the ATP dropped all charges as a warning. Writing for Vanity Fair, Michael Steinberger suggests that sponsors may have been quick to turn on Sharapova because she was nearing the end of her career anyway; ‘Sharapova’s age and declining game conspired against her,’ Steinberger writes, ‘[an] enforced absence could effectively mark the end of her career.’

#3: How Much Are Her Sponsorship Deals Worth?
The Funds

As one of the most commercially successful athletes today, Sharapova has a net worth of around $125 million. According to Forbes, she earned almost $30 million in 2015, with $23 million of that garnered through endorsements. She was the world’s highest paid female athlete for the 11th consecutive year. Her Nike contract had been the most lucrative, worth at least $12.5 million annually. She also stands to lose millions through deals with Evian, who she signed with in 2010, and Avon who she’s been with since 2014. Her deal with Head, which remains in place, is reportedly worth $2 million a year.

#2: Has This Happened Before?
The Scandals

Andre Agassi is arguably the most infamous example of a failed drugs test in tennis, but the sport does have ongoing issues with doping. In 2013, Marin Cilic received a 4-month ban after testing positive for nikethamide; he was reinstated onto the tour in 2014, and won the US Open that season. Also in 2013, the Serbian Viktor Troicki was banned for a year after he failed to provide a blood sample at the Monte-Carlo Masters. There have also been various instances of cocaine use in tennis. John McEnroe and Martina Hingis have both been linked with the drug in the past.

#1: Will Maria Sharapova Retire?
The Future

That Sharapova’s initial press conference was tipped to be a retirement announcement shows how difficult it could prove for her to return; in terms of on court performances, her career may have already been winding down. However, if she’s to continue her entrepreneurial success, Sharapova might stage some form of comeback, in order to regain respectability. Much will depend on the length of the ban she receives, if any, and on how she fares in her ITF hearing. Sharapova has taken some early control of the situation and maintained her grip by addressing apparently untrue initial reports. But will she be able to navigate through the case with her reputation intact? She says, ‘I hope I will be allowed to play again,’ but it’s not her decision to make, and the proverbial ball is no longer in her court.

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