Tennis star Maria Sharapova announced that she failed a drug test due to having the drug Meldonium in her system.
The little-known drug was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances in January, but Sharapova insists she missed the notification and unaware. However, she had been taking the substance for nearly a decade for health reasons.
"I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down and I let the sport down," she told a press conference in Los Angeles. "I take full responsibility for it."
In addition to being “provisionally suspended” by the International Tennis Federation, Sharapova risks losing her spot at the 2016 Rio Olympics and has been dropped from major endorsement deals including Nike and Porsche.
Nike said the company is “saddened” by the news and will “continue to monitor the situation” as the investigation unfolds, while Porsche released a statement sharing similar sentiments.
The drug Sharapova was taking is used to treat heart conditions and brain circulation disorders in Latvia and Russia, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. It is not, however, approved for use in the United States.
The problem is that several athletes have tested positive for the drug because it can “improve physical capacity and mental function” in healthy people. These are two enhancements that are very beneficial for athletes’ performance.
Sharapova was ranked by Forbes last year as the highest paid female athlete in the world with only 23 percent of her earnings coming from tennis matches. The rest of her earnings came from endorsements, which means losing them will definitely hit her hard.
The question here is: how is this fair?
This type of severe punishment seems rather extreme. Why would she have reason to think that Meldonium — a medication she had been legally taking throughout her entire career — was banned?
It is an oversight that many people would likely make.
Beyond that, if she has viable proof that she has legitimate health conditions being treated by this medication then that is worth taking into account while dishing out her punishment. She reportedly has a family history of diabetes, has had irregular EKG results, and has a magnesium deficiency.
Nike and Porsche are jumping the gun by cutting ties with her before the truth has been revealed.
A temporary suspension during the investigation is justified. Athletes are responsible for staying on top of what is permissible and what is not — a standard Sharapova failed to uphold — but her entire livelihood should not be at stake because of this situation.
"She said she took these for many, many years and then didn't read the memorandum that came out," Sharapova’s ex-coach, Nick Bollettieri, reportedly said.
"I don't think that Maria Sharapova would continue doing something, especially being in the limelight, if there was something she knew about,” he added.
This error could mark the end of Sharapova’s career and has already begun to tarnish her reputation. As a society, we have to remember that our role models and idols are also imperfect human beings, just like everyone else.
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