Sharapova’s return

In a flash, her career was over,
Next in line was Sharapova,
WTA said a champion could come back
Naturally, she was over the moon,
Many argue it’s a few days too soon
Watch out – Maria’s on the attack
January 26th 2016 was a sad day for tennis when former world number one, Maria Sharapova was officially banned from tennis for 2 years for taking an illegal performance enhancing drug, Meldonium. Meldonium officially took its place on the banned substance list effective from January 2016.

A couple of big question marks that have torn the tennis world is whether Sharapova should be allowed to obtain wildcard entries into tournaments as she currently does not possess a world ranking and should be forced to start from the beginning? Secondly, Sharapova’s first round main draw match is schedule for the 3rd day of play, coincidentally, the same day that she is allowed to compete following her reduced 15 month suspension for the use of Meldonium. Have the WTA made an exception for Sharapova?

These questions have brought out many opinions from the current players, including Caroline Wozniacki, who is also competing at Stuttgart, commented, “I think everyone deserves a second chance and I think she’s going to come back and fight her way back. I’m sure she’s going to play well. But at the same time, I feel when a player is banned for drugs, I think someone should start from the bottom and fight their way back.” Wozniacki also suggested that “once a tournament is started and a player is banned, I don’t think a player should be allowed to play that week.” Andy Murray has given a strong view stating that “I think you should really have to work your way back. However, the majority of tournaments are going to do what they think is best for their event.”

In all walks of life, exceptions are made for any number of reasons; one standard punishment does not fit all crimes. However, it is important that there are ground rules, which in this case, have been followed with the suspension Maria has served. The details and length of her suspension will be specific to her on-goings.

Wildcards can be used at tournaments, at the discretion of the tournament directors to help/reward players gain entry, into the main draw of a tournament. The organisers may do this based on success at a previous tournament, provide chances to players of the tournament nationality or even to help promote their tournament. It is promoting the tournament which tends to be above all, the most important factor for many tournament organisers, and therefore, why would Stuttgart not want a former world number 1, five time Grand Slam Champion and a three time winner of the Stuttgart Tournament playing at their tournament and therefore, delay her opening round match to the day her 15 month suspension ends.

We must also look at Sharapova’s side of the story and how her proven innocence in the case, should not mean all the hard work she has accomplished over the years of the sport and the success she has had, should force her to start from scratch.

Maria has admitted that she was taking Meldonium, also known as Mildronate, before January 2015 and continued taking the substance after it had been added to the list of banned substances. Sharapova was adamant she was taking the drug for health reasonsas she had a lack of blood flow to parts of the body, particularly in cases of angina or heart failure.

The publicised reasons as to why Sharapova had her ban reduced from 2 years to 15 months were as follows.

 

  • She had used mildronate for 10 years without any anti-doping issue.
  • She did not seek treatment from her doctor, Anatoly Skalny, to obtain a performance-enhancing product, but used it only for medical reasons.
  • No specific warning had been issued by Wada, the ITF or the WTA about a change in the status of meldonium.
  • She took a public position acknowledging that she took meldonium and accepted responsibility.
It is my opinion, that as an athlete, no matter the level one is playing at; you are solely responsible for the nutrients you take. Some players, including Sharapova have the luxury of have a team travelling with them, looking after their diet, physical/mental health, their on-court game. The list could go on as each team and coach is very specific to the individual athlete and what their wishes are. In my view, Sharapova needed to be more aware of what she was taking in conjunction with the rules set out by the World Anti-Doping Agency, (WADA).

To conclude, I don’t believe that Sharapova should be allowed to take part in Stuttgart as all players should be available to take part in the tournament from day 1 to the end of the tournament. Sharapova will not be able to enter the premises of the Stuttgart tournament until the morning of her match. I further believe that Sharapova’s two-year ban should have stood and not reduced to 15 months as all players are responsible for what they take.

Nevertheless, Sharapova has almost served her 15-month ban and is returning to competing shortly. We wish her all the best in her future career.

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