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Maria Sharapova drug ban appeal won't restore damage to her reputation

By Paul Newman

Published 09/06/2016

Towering achievement:Maria Sharapova shows off the trophy after her second win at the French Open in Paris
Towering achievement:Maria Sharapova shows off the trophy after her second win at the French Open in Paris
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Johanna Konta in action against Maria Sharapova during day one of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 29, 2015. See PA Story TENNIS Wimbledon. Photo credit should read Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use without prior written consent of the AELTC. Still image use only - no moving images to emulate broadcast. No superimposing or removal of sponsor/ad logos. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Maria Sharapova in action against Johanna Konta during the First round women's singles during day one of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 29, 2015. See PA Story TENNIS Wimbledon. Photo credit should read Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use without prior written consent of the AELTC. Still image use only - no moving images to emulate broadcast. No superimposing or removal of sponsor/ad logos. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Russia's Maria Sharapova reacts after winning her women's singles first round match against Britain's Johanna Kontaduring on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. Sharapova won 6-2, 6-2. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Russia's Maria Sharapova (L) shakes hands with Britain's Johanna Konta after winning their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. Sharapova won 6-2, 6-2. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Britain's Johanna Konta serves to Russia's Maria Sharapova during their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Johanna Konta of Great Britain serves in her Ladiess Singles first round match against Maria Sharapova of Russia during day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a forehand in her Ladiess Singles first round match against Johanna Konta of Great Britain during day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova serves in her Ladies Singles first round match against Johanna Konta (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Russia's Maria Sharapova serves to Britain's Johanna Konta during their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Russia's Maria Sharapova returns to Britain's Johanna Konta during their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. Sharapova won 6-2, 6-2. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Maria Sharapova in action Johanna Konta during day one of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 29, 2015. See PA Story TENNIS Wimbledon. Photo credit should read Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use without prior written consent of the AELTC. Still image use only - no moving images to emulate broadcast. No superimposing or removal of sponsor/ad logos. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Maria Sharapova of Russia serves in her Ladies Singles first round match against Johanna Konta of Great Britain during day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Maria Sharapova is picked up by racing driver Mark Webber and driven to the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Pre-Wimbledon Party
Maria Sharapova
Open race: Maria Sharapova celebrates winning her women's singles semi-final match against Eugenie Bouchard at the French Open
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Maria Sharapova of Russia serves during her women's singles match against Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria on day four of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 28, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a backhand during the final against Ana Ivanovic of Serbia on day seven of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix 2014 at Porsche-Arena on April 27, 2014 in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates victory in the final against Ana Ivanovic of Serbia on day seven of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix 2014 at Porsche-Arena on April 27, 2014 in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The final sentence of the findings of the independent tribunal investigating Maria Sharapova's failed drugs test says it all. "She is the sole author of her own misfortune," the three-man panel conclude at the end of their 33-page report.

Whatever view you take of why Sharapova was taking the banned drug Meldonium - and the tribunal concluded that in the end she was using it to enhance her performance rather than for genuine medical reasons - the level of her incompetence in failing to realise that it was on a prohibited list is astonishing for someone who had otherwise been so professional in all areas of her life.

The five-time Grand Slam champion was handed a two-year ban and has decided to automatically appeal the verdict.

Sharapova convinced the tribunal that the original reason she started taking Meldonium - or more specifically the branded drug Mildronate - 10 years ago had indeed been to prevent recurring viral illnesses from which she had been suffering.

Meldonium was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list at the start of this year because of growing evidence that athletes were using it to enhance performance.

The tribunal reported that the drug, when taken shortly before exercise, had "a positive effect on energy metabolism and stamina".

Dr Anatoly Skalny, the Russian doctor who originally prescribed Sharapova's medication, which eventually comprised a mind-boggling total of 30 different medications and supplements, regularly consulted a WADA laboratory to check that everything was legal.

However, after Sharapova decided at the end of 2012 to stop following the doctor's regime, because she found the taking of so many pills "overwhelming", her steps to ensure that she was not ingesting anything on WADA's banned list were remarkable in their lack of diligence.

Sharapova's agent, Max Eisenbud, told the tribunal that, from 2013, he had taken responsibility for ensuring that she was not taking any banned substances.

Sharapova's father and, from 2013, Eisenbud were the only people in her entourage who knew she was taking the drug.

Although Eisenbud has done a great job managing Sharapova's business affairs - she has been the world's highest-earning sportswoman for more than a decade - he admitted to the tribunal that he did not have even a basic understanding of how WADA's prohibited list works.

The tribunal concluded: "The underlying factual puzzle in this case is how an elite player in the position of Ms Sharapova, with the assistance of a professional team including the very best sporting and medical advice obtainable, could ever have placed herself in the position of taking a Prohibited Substance, as is admitted, before each of the five matches she played at the Australian Open."

Rejecting Eisenbud's evidence, the tribunal said: "The idea that a professional manager, entrusted by IMG with the management of one of its leading global sporting stars, would so casually and ineptly have checked whether his player was complying with the anti-doping programme, a matter critical to the player's professional career and her commercial success, is unbelievable."

Both WADA and the International Tennis Federation had publicised the updating of the list of banned drugs - and the inclusion of Meldonium on it - from September of last year, but neither Sharapova nor Eisenbud made themselves aware of the changes.

Sharapova's legal team claimed that the changes had not been publicised sufficiently.

While Meldonium was not on WADA's banned list until the start of this year, the tribunal concluded that Sharapova's behaviour in recent years suggested she believed she had something to hide.Sharapova failed to disclose her use of Mildronate on any of the doping control forms which players have to complete when taking drugs tests.

The tribunal concluded that, whatever her position may have been in 2006, "there was in 2016 no diagnosis and no therapeutic advice supporting the continuing use of Mildronate. If she had believed that there was a continuing medical need to use Mildronate then she would have consulted a medical practitioner.

The manner of its use, on match days and when undertaking intensive training, is only consistent with an intention to boost her energy levels.

"The manner in which the medication was taken, its concealment from anti-doping authorities, her failure to disclose it even to her own team, and the lack of any medical justification must inevitably lead to the conclusion that she took Mildronate for the purpose of enhancing her performance," it added.

Sharapova's appeal to the Court for Arbitration for Sport, which has in recent years cut the drugs bans imposed on the tennis players Marin Cilic and Viktor Troicki, may yet have some success in reducing her two-year ban.

However, the damage to her reputation contained in this damning report will surely never be undone.

Belfast Telegraph

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