Sportswear giant Nike has said it will stick with Maria Sharapova despite her two-year suspension from tennis for failing a drug test.
Nike said in statement on Wednesday that it would “continue to partner” Sharapova after the International Tennis Federation’s Tennis Anti-Doping Program decided that she took the drug meldonium “for the purpose of enhancing her performance.”
Sharapova tested positive for the drug at the Australian Open on January 26. A ban on Meldonium came into force on January 1. The Russian, who had been taking the drug for 10 years, said she was unaware that the drug had been recently banned.
The five-time grand slam champion has said she “cannot accept” such an “unfairly harsh” ban and will appeal.
Back in March following news of the positive test, Nike announced it “would suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues.”
On Wednesday, it provided the under-pressure former world number one with a boost, saying: “The ITF tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules. Maria has always made her position clear, has apologised for her mistake and is now appealing the length of the ban.
“Based on the decision of the ITF and their factual findings, we hope to see Maria back on court and will continue to partner with her.”
More sponsors are likely to announce their decisions over the next few days.
Several, including American Express, Porsche, and TAG Heuer, have distanced themselves from the Russian after the positive test was made public in March.
According to Forbes magazine, Sharapova made $21.9 million over the past 12 months, a drop of almost $8 million on the previous year.