On Monday, the former tennis world number one revealed at a press conference in Los Angeles that she tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at the Australian Open. The five-time Grand Slam champion will be placed on a provisional ban by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) from 12 March, meaning we may not see the Russian play professionally for up to four years. Watch the press conference here:
So what is Meldonium and how does it help an athlete?
Meldonium is a drug designed to combat a condition where there is a reduction in blood supply to the body tissue, called ischemia. Sharapova had been taking mildronate –another name for meldonium- legally for the past ten years because of several health conditions. However, on January 1 the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) added the drug to the list of banned substances, a fact that the former Wimbledon champion claims she did not know.
Meldonium has been known to increase the oxygen flow to muscles, and therefore could have a positive effect on the user’s endurance, stamina and recovery.
How did Sharapova and her physician not know about the effects of this drug?
A professional athlete should always be wary about the drugs they are consuming, especially when the consequences can be so grave. Many people, including the former head of WADA Dick Pound and former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash find it hard to believe that the 28 year-old tennis star did not know that meldonium is a banned substance, and I have to agree with them. Pound also said “All the tennis players were given notification of it and she has a medical team somewhere. That is reckless beyond description”.
Should Sharapova receive a harsher sentence?
Personally, I think athletes that are caught using performance-enhancing drugs should receive a lifetime ban. They have undermined the sport and its fans, and should be made to pay the price. Sharapova claimed during her press conference that she takes “great responsibility and professionalism” in her job, but I doubt she truly means that. The tennis star currently faces up to a four-year ban by the ITF, but that is merely a slap on the wrist. It is by no means an effective deterrent to other doping athletes. According to Dick Pound, WADA can appeal for an increased sentence, but only time will tell if that will indeed happen.