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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Maria Sharapova falls to disgrace - use of Meldonium

On Women’s day, writing about women in Sport –  I wrote Serena Williams would feature on top.  Is she the greatest i.e., most famous or most accomplished – a measure of feminine athleticism was the Q ?   the one who according to media could push her down was  Ronda Jean Rousey,  an American mixed martial artist, judoka, and actress. In 2015, she was the third most searched person on Google.  In May 2015, two magazines ranked Rousey as the most "dominant" active athlete. Though not of the calibre, one who was always in the limelight due to her game and more because of her looks has fallen badly !

The five-time Grand Slam champion has so far won 35 WTA titles and in 2012 became just the sixth female player in the Open era to win the career Grand Slam, joining the sport’s legends: Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams.  More than all her on-court brilliance, Sharapova has been even better off the court. Sharapova was the world’s highest-paid female athlete last year for the 11th straight year with earnings of $29.7 million, including $23 million from endorsements and appearances. She ranked No. 26, including men, among the top earners in sports. The utter dominance Serena  Williams  exercised over her in compiling a 19-2 record has come close to defining the Russian's career, and denied the women's game the authentic rivalry it has craved in recent years.

It was not only the game that proved to be a money spinner for Sharapova as she expanded her brand beyond the traditional endorsement space. She launched her own gummi candy brand, Suparpova, in 2012 and is adding chocolate this year. Sharapova wants to turn Sugarpova into a lifestyle brand. She hosted her own tennis tournament, Maria Sharapova & Friends, in Los Angeles in December. The two-day exhibition included celebrities and tennis pros.

All that would be shunned as the diva Maria Sharapova shocked the tennis world Monday when she announced she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open. The media and fans were expecting a retirement announcement at a press conference that she had hastily called in Los Angeles, a rumour which Sharapova put to rest with a bit of gallows humor: “If I was going to announce my retirement, it would not be in a hotel with this fairly ugly carpet.” Sharapova said she had been taking the drug Meldonium for a decade for her health, and unbeknownst to Sharapova it was added to the WTA Tour’s banned list of substances on January 1.

Credit Sharapova and her PR machine at IMG for getting out ahead of this story before any punishment had been doled out by the WTA Tour. Nonetheless, there is now a question mark over Sharapova due to her use of the anti-ischemic drug, which was banned because its misuse by athletes to increase endurance performance, as well as improve rehabilitation after exercise. If more information emerges that contradicts Sharapova’s story that it was an honest mistake, it could jeopardize her standing as the world’s most marketable female athlete. The drug which is mainly available in Eastern Europe is said to have become a drug of choice for Russian athletes implicated of cheating in other sports.

Meldonium, also known as Mildronate, was added to the new banned list of drugs last year, which came into place on January 1, 2016. The drug was added to the list because the World Anti-Doping Agency said there 'evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.'  It is used medically to treat ischemia, or a lack of blood flow. It can be used as a metabolic enhancer to increase endurance through greater blood flow. Sharapova said she had been taking the drug for ten years - but Latvian manufacturers Grindeks say that four to six weeks is a common course.

The Institute of Biochemistry - Center for Preventive Doping Research, German Sport University Cologne said of the drug: 'Anti-ischemic drug Mildronate demonstrates an increase in endurance performance of athletes, improved rehabilitation after exercise, protection against stress, and enhanced activations of central nervous system (CNS) functions.' Sharapova said she has been taking the drug since 2006 to aid in a variety of health problems. On December 22 of last year, WADA sent out an email indicating what drugs would be banned starting in 2016 and Sharapova conceded that she received but did not read that email.

Sharapova earns $30million a year in endorsements, according to Forbes. Current endorsements include American Express, Avon, Evian, Porsche. The World that had all along braced her is reacting instantly.  The five-times Grand Slam champion dropped the bombshell at a press conference at a Los Angeles hotel, confessing she had been found to have taken Mildronate – or Meldonium – which was prohibited from January 1 this year.  Just hours later, the 28-year-old lost her most lucrative deal - an eight-year contract extended in 2010 for a reported $70million with sportswear brand Nike, where she has her own clothing line. Swiss watch brand TAG Heuer followed suit, saying that its contract with Sharapova had expired at the end of 2015 and it has pulled out of negotiations on a new agreement. Another one of her major partners, Porsche, said that while they are 'certainly not dumping' Sharapova, they are currently 'not pursuing any further activities' with her.

The International Tennis Federation has confirmed the star will be provisionally suspended from the sport from March 12, however, despite this, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation has said he expects Sharapova to play in the Olympics in Brazil in August this year. 

'On 26 January 2016, Ms Sharapova provided an anti-doping sample to the TADP in association with her participation in the 2016 Australian Open. 'That sample was analysed by a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accredited laboratory, which returned a positive for meldonium, which is a prohibited substance under the WADA Code and, therefore also the TADP. 'In accordance with Article 8.1.1 of the TADP, Ms Sharapova was charged on 2 March with an Anti-Doping Rule Violation. 'Ms Sharapova has accepted the finding of meldonium in her sample collected on 26 January.

Maria Sharapova has only played three tournaments in the last eight months after being plagued with injury.   She admitted that she did not follow an information link that was provided. 'I take responsibility for my professionalism in my job and I made a big mistake. I know there will be consequences and I don't want to end my career this way. I really hope I will be given another chance to play tennis again. I can't blame anyone but myself. I have let my fans down. 'It made me healthy and that is why I continued to take it,' Sharapova said of the banned substance after taking a small number of questions from the floor.

Williams has been far from alone in disliking the statuesque Russian, and many fans have found it hard to take to her because of her incessant grunt-cum-wail when hitting the ball. She could be torturously slow between points and there was also the practice of turning her back on her opponent between every point to focus on the next one. She is not alone – Andre Agassi  considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time but failed a drugs test in 1997, testing positive for crystal methamphetamine. He was let off by the ATP with a warning after he said he had accidentally sipped his assistant's spiked drink but later admitted, in his autobiography after retirement, that claim was a lie. Great Britain's No 2 behind Tim Henman at the time, Rusedski tested positive for nandrolone in 2003.   Five-time Grand Slam winner Hingis tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon in 2007 and was banned for two years despite claiming she had never used the drug. Frenchman Gasquet was hit with a provisional 12-month ban after testing positive for cocaine in March 2009.

Former tennis star Jennifer Capriati  slammed here in now-deleted Twitter posts, the 39-year-old retired player accused Sharapova of hiring doctors to 'get around the system', adding that she 'never opted to cheat'. Capriati then went on to insinuate that she would have been able to salvage her career, which ended in 2004, had she resorted to taking the same drug.

The combination of her glamorous looks, strong personality and natural business acumen, married up with a huge tennis talent helped make her a massive success as much off the court as on it. Sharapova's official career prize money stands not far short of £25 million. But her personal fortune is many times that, thanks to her voracious appetite for maximizing her worth.  S a d l y, those days now look over.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
9th Mar 2016

Largely excerpted from MailOnline

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