Opinion: Sharapova pays the price for arrogance

Maria Sharapova has been praised by many for the way in which she has handled her failed drugs test at the Australian Open, but any great sympathy is misplaced. 

The world’s most marketable female athlete saw her global empire take an almighty hit on Monday when she took to a Los Angeles hotel to admit that she had committed a doping offence. It had been speculated that Sharapova was going to announce her retirement; many will be wishing that’s all it was, but instead it was something more alarming.

Read: Sharapova fails drugs test

For some time sporting authorities have been quite clear on one thing: ignorance is not a defence for doping violations. Athletes are responsible for knowing that whatever supplements they take, whatever medication they are on and whatever food they eat is in line with the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) guidelines. That Sharapova did not know that Meldonium was now on WADA’s banned substance list does not matter, she should have.

It is of particularly little consequence when one considers her blasé approach to the matter.

The Russian herself admitted that she had paid little attention to a recent update of the banned substance list.

She said at Monday’s press conference: “I received an email on 22 December from WADA about the changes happening to the banned list and you can see prohibited items, and I didn’t click on that link.”

Sharapova is no doubt regretting that decision now, and she will do so for the rest of her life. But she can only blame herself – although she should certainly feel a member of her team should have been monitoring the situation.

While one can only be critical of Sharapova for failing the test, there are two further points to consider on the matter that are a bit more complicated. The 28-year-old has been applauded for the manner in which she announced her failed test, and while it’s easy to say that her press conference was simply a well constructed public relations exercise, Sharapova could easily have left the matter in the background (the WTA would not have announced the results of the test), until the outcome of the failed test was clearer.  However, she has come forward and confirmed the failed test and taken ownership of it. More than once Sharapova said that only she was responsible for failing to follow the WADA guidelines. Secondly, suggestions that Sharapova should be stripped of her titles from the past 10 years are hugely premature. Yes, she has admitted to taking the drug for a decade, she went to great lengths to make that clear, but the drug was not on the banned list for any period prior to January 1, 2016.

The fact that the drug is anti-ischemic – which helps blood flow and, therefore, can improve athletic performance – was being used to treat a health problem that Sharapova has never previously disclosed does beg a few questions, but lumping Sharapova with likes of Lance Armstrong is not an accurate interpretation of the situation.

An argument could be made that Meldonium should have on the banned list for longer. It wasn’t, and that’s all that matters. As such, it’s only Sharapova’s use of the drug this year that are of consequence.

Read: Nike suspends relationship with Sharapova

While the tennis world awaits a decision on how long Sharapova will be suspended, athletes everywhere could do worse than take a closer look at doping regulations. When in doubt, it’s always worth clicking on that link to WADA’s banned substance list.

James Ho