Maria Sharapova has been found guilty of committing a doping violation and has been sentenced to a two-year ban period backdated to January 26, 2016—the day she failed her drug test in Melbourne at the Australian Open.
Is the ban justified? Should Sharapova have been dealt with more leniently?
Let’s try and seek some answers, shall we?
The Independent Tribunal appointed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) consisted of Charles Flint QC, Dr. Barry O’Driscoll and Dr. José A. Pascual.
John J. Haggerty of Fox Rothschild LLP and Howard L Jacobs represented Maria Sharapova and Johnathan Taylor and Lauren Pagé of Bird & Bird LLP presented the case for the International Tennis Federation.
Sharapova was subjected to an additional out-of-competition test on the 2nd of February, 2016 in which meldonium was discovered as well. For the purposes of the tribunal, the results were treated as a single anti-doping violation.
The judgment rested on four legs of a just table:
“(1) Whether the player can establish that the violation of article 2.1 was not intentional within the meaning of article 10.2.3. If so, then the period of ineligibility to be imposed is 2 years; if not, the period of ineligibility to be imposed is 4 years.
(2) Whether under article 10.5.2 the player can establish that she had no significant fault or negligence, in which case the period of ineligibility may be reduced to a minimum of 1 year.
(3) Whether the ITF is estopped from asserting any fault on the part of the player.
(4) Whether the player can invoke the principle of proportionality so as to avoid or mitigate the sanctions that follow from the rules.”
The ITF’s case rested on whether they could prove that Maria Sharapova knowingly disregarded the risk of contravening the anti-doping rules and thus committed an intentional violation.
Sharapova’s lawyers sought to prove that the ITF were well aware that she had failed a Mildronate test in 2015 and thus she ought to have been warned by the ITF explicitly that she would come under the scanner given that Mildronate had been added to the banned substances list.
The ITF were , however, provided the list of last year’s offenders only in March this year; privacy and security concerns are the reasons offered for the list not being provided to the ITF earlier. This effectively negated any assertion from the defendant that the ITF couldn’t assert any fault on Sharapova’s part.
Sharapova submitted that she was first prescribed the said drug in 2005 by Dr. Anatoly Skalny of the Centre for Biotic Medicine in Moscow. She was prescribed a list of 18 medications in total for a “mineral metabolism disorder, insufficient supply of nutrients from food intake and other abnormalities which made it necessary to boost the immune system.”
The prescription for Mildronate was as follows:
“Mildronate 1-2 X 10, repeat in 2 wks (before training or competition)
1 hr before competition, 2 pills of Mildronate
During games of special importance, you can increase your Mildronate dose to 3-4 pills (1 hr before the match). However, it is necessary to consult me on all these matters (please call)
30 minutes prior to a training session: Mildronat – 1 Capsule. 30-45 minutes prior to a tournament Mildronat 2 capsules”.
The drug was also further recommended whenever:
“complaints arose regarding fatigue related to overexertion,[or] lowering of the immune functions, appearance of inflammatory processes, lab results abnormalities in the fat and carbohydrate metabolism (glucose, cholesterol, insulin), affecting the myocardial functions (magnesium, phosphorus deficiency, elevated AST etc.) 8.”
Dr. Ford Vox expressed the opinion that “Dr. Skalny was, in the light of Ms Sharapova’s family history, justified in prescribing Mildronate both as a cardioprotective agent and as a preventative agent for diabetes.” and that the Russian scientific literature supporting Mildronate’s clinical use to compensate for an immune deficiency was strong.
The medications were verified against the WADA Prohibited List and were found in compliance.
In 2012, Sharapova discontinued her association with Dr. Skalny and retained a nutritionist Nick Harris instead.
She continued to self-medicate though with three substances: Magnerot, Riboxin and Mildronate.
Her nutritionist was not informed that she continued the above drugs.
Sharapova’s use of Mildronate was never disclosed either to WTA or WADA and the only documentation of her use was the correspondence between her and Dr. Skalny.
In 2015, WADA announced that usage of Meldonium would be monitored both in and outside competition.
Six percent of athletes tested positive for Meldonium in 2015 under the monitoring program.
Meldonium was added to the Prohibited Substances List for 2016 on 29 September 2015 by WADA and published on its website.
The ITF published the same on 7 December 2015 on its website.
Plastic wallet cards listing the prohibited drugs were handed over to Sven Groeneveld, Ms Sharapova’s coach by Neil Robinson of the WTA sometime in January 2016.
Two emails were mailed out by the WTA and the ITF respectively to players with references to the 2016 Tennis Anti-Doping Programme but there was no intimation of changes to the Prohibited List or specifically addition of Meldonium to the list.
24 samples taken from tennis players tested positive for Meldonium in 2015 (just over 1% of tennis players)—five of which were Ms. Sharapova’s.
However, results from WADA are reported to sports bodies only on an aggregate basis.This ensures confidentiality of the players’ results.
The ITF had no way of knowing that Meldonium was being used by Sharapova in 2015.
The tribunal found that the decision by Sharapova not to disclose her use of Meldonium on her doping control form was deliberate.
Max Eisenbud, Sharapova’s manager, claims to have no training as to how to distinguish a prohibited substance from a legally allowed drug and that he was encountering personal problems i.e. separation from his wife because of which he did not take his annual vacation which he usually utilized to check his wards’ adherence to the prohibited list and hence failed to review the 2016 list.
The tribunal found Eisenbud’s testimony ‘incredible’.
The triune also found that Sharapova’s continued use of Meldonium was “consistent with an intention to boost her energy levels”.
Did Sharapova intentionally break the rules?
Article 10.2.3 states:
“The term, therefore, requires that the Player or other Person engaged in conduct that he/she knew constituted an anti-doping rule violation or knew that there was a significant risk that the conduct might constitute or result in an Anti-Doping Rule Violation and manifestly disregarded that risk.”
The tribunal found her use of Mildronate unintentional as per the above Article.
Hence she was not handed a full ban of four years
Was she negligent?
Conscientiousness is the personal responsibility of a player and thus Sharapova’s professed indifference to checking the Prohibited List landed her squarely in the cross-hairs of the tribunal who found her guilty and handed her a ban of two years.
Sharapova sought to invoke estoppel on the basis that “the ITF (a) failed to notify her of the test results obtained in 2015 (b) failed to distribute the Prohibited List to her and (c) failed to publicise the amendments to the Prohibited List.”
The Tribunal found no basis for this claim.
The Tribunal also found no extreme or unique circumstances under which principles of proportionality could be invoked to reduce the sanction.
The only concession granted to Sharapova is the back-dating of her punishment to the date of her Australian Open failed drug test.
The tribunal concluded:
“The contravention of the anti-doping rules was not intentional as Ms Sharapova did not appreciate that Mildronate contained a substance prohibited from 1 January 2016. However she does bear sole responsibility for the contravention, and very significant fault, in failing to take any steps to check whether the continued use of this medicine was permissible. If she had not concealed her use of Mildronate from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the contravention would have been avoided. She is the sole author of her own misfortune.”
The decision of the tribunal can and will be appealed by the Russian in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Source: Text of tribunal verdict on ITF website.
“In mixed doubles, the woman is constantly targeted and under severe attack. The one who holds up better against that fierce onslaught normally ends up on the winning side. So, in that sense, it is the woman who is the key to success in mixed doubles.”
Are tennis players cheats?
An expose by BuzzFeed and the BBC would have us believe so.
An investigation into a match allegedly tanked by Nikolay Davydenko in 2007 against a lower-ranked Argentine opponent, Martin Vassallo Arguello,
uncovered a series of anomalies in games lost by top-ranked players in both men and women’s tennis.
Eight of the top-50 men’s players at the Australian Open are under the scanner.
In the past, match-fixing was felt to be restricted to the lower echelons of the tennis hierarchy where journeymen lost games in exchange for cash which they could hardly hope to see in their journeymen careers.
But now, the scourge of cheating appears to have spread its tentacles all over the pristine sport.
Novak Djokovic—amongst other players—disclosed that he was approached in 2007 but he refused. Roger Federer and Serena Williams have called for names to be revealed.
The investigating team indicts gambling chains across countries such as Russia and Spain. But they have no real luck pinpointing guilty players as they had neither the authority nor permission to access players’ phone and bank records.
There exists no definitive proof of collusion with punters and guilty players can continue to bluster their way through this crisis.
It is up to the tennis authorities to ensure more transparency in the way the game is played.
Perhaps, it would help if more lower-ranked players were able to earn a living from the game. This view is opposed by Federer again who feels that cheats exist at every level and increasing prize money at lower rungs is not the solution.
Whatever the outcome of these new revelations, it is certain that upsets will be looked upon with suspicion in the future and not simply considered a glorious uncertainty of sport.
It’s a pity, really, because everyone loves an underdog.
Players have been calling for a reduction in the number of tournaments they participate in a season. They claim that the unrelenting touring takes a toll on mind, body and spirit and they are unable to be consistent and motivated enough throughout the arduous season.
The authorities would do well to look into these complaints but the players do themselves no favours by opting to partake of the bounties of exhibition games in their off-season.
Greed certainly greases the wheels, one way or the other.
Every time he makes a Grand Slam final nowadays, his fans go wild with delirium believing that an 18th Grand Slam is inevitable. Yet, the man comes up short. In 2014, it was Djokovic in five sets at Wimbledon.
This year, it was the Serbian again in four sets.
The Swiss last won a Grand Slam in 2012, beating Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in succession to clinch the title. It was also the year he was last ranked No. 1.
It is this ability to clinch Slams that has eroded over the years. The 17-time-champion no longer can produce the tennis required to beat the rest of the Big Four when it matters, where it matters, in successive best-of-five encounters.
This is unlikely to change as age catches up with one the modern greats of the game.
That is the bad news.
The good news is that he is not the only one suffering a loss in invincibility.
Nadal ceded his domination over the French Open this year losing to Djokovic who in turn surrendered his chance at a Career Slam by losing to Fedex’s fellow countryman Stanislas Wawrinka in the final.
That is the other piece of good news. Novak, if Roger can’t beat you, Wawrinka surely must.
Murray is not quite among the invincibles. Yet, he is a potent force on the comeback trail.
For Roger to win another Slam, the draw must be favorable enough to have him encounter just one of the above three at any stage in the tournament and preferably not the Djoker.
This is the blueprint for (immediately) imminent Grand Slam success for the Original Man.
What she said:
“I will do a chocolate deal for product only. No need for money.”
Caroline Wozniacki is less interested in the money endorsements bring her and more about how a company and its products make her feel.
The Dane tennis star desires a chocolate deal because Swiss master, Roger Federer, left a huge bar of Lindt in her US Open locker.
What she really meant:
“I want what chocolate can do for me. I have chocolate on my mind.”
What she definitely didn’t:
“It’s got to be Swiss chocolate or nothing. Belgian will just not do. And it should be shaped like Rory (McIllroy).”
What she said:
Just felt a earthquake here in Tokyo while practicing.. 5.6 they say..taking the words 'swept me off my feet' to a whole diff level..Yikes 😱—
Sania Mirza (@MirzaSania) September 16, 2014
Sania Mirza feelingly quips on an earthquake north of Tokyo while at the Toray Tan Pacific Open.
Dominika Cibulkova, however, felt nothing.
“I didn’t even feel it. People were talking and I didn’t really know what was happening. But the chair umpire told me afterwards. That’s never happened to me.”
What Mirza really meant:
“The ground moved from under me and this time it was not Shoaib (Malik).”
What she definitely didn’t:
“Someone, hand me my broom please so that I can clean up this mess. All while I listen to Alanis Morrisette’s ‘Under Rug Swept’.”
What he said:
“And you know what, if that happens, I’ll be a minister!”
Bogdan Obradovic jokes that Novak Djokovic is so popular in Serbia that he could easily be President.
“There is a joke in Serbia. Actually, it’s not a joke. It’s a fact. Ask any man, woman or kid and they will tell you Novak must be the president. Even the president will say, ‘OK, I am ready to vacate my chair for Novak’.”
The non-playing captain of his country’s Davis Cup team is in Bangalore where India play them for a spot in the World Group.
It was in 2001 at the US Open that Obradovic predicted (to a Serbian reporter) that Djokovic would be World No. 1 someday and win the American title.
“I told him that we have one kid back home and he is going to be No. 1 and win the singles title at the US Open one day. That interview was broadcast on Serbian national television. Many people laughed at me. Today, they smile.
You know Novak was junior World No. 1 at 14. He won the European championships. Now you may wonder how a European champion can be called a world champion. Let me tell you. It’s a funny story. Actually, even Americans and Canadians and Australians used to play in the European championships. It’s funny, I know. So, to me, Novak was the No. 1 junior in the world.”
On Djokovic’s elasticity:
“The good thing was that he was naturally elastic. So we developed an exercise regimen and made sure we didn’t destroy that aspect of his body. Look, most tennis players are strong and powerful. But they are not agile. They don’t possess elastic energy. This is not American Football or rugby. In tennis, you need to have elastic energy. By using your elastic energy, you tend to spend less energy during matches. This helps you recover faster. No one knows your tank capacity; how much gasoline you have. I can tell you Novak spends less energy than any other player on the Tour. That’s why is so fit. That’s why he is No. 1.”
What he really meant:
“A minister ministers and that’s what I’ll do. After all, haven’t I been ministering to him for years?”
What he definitely didn’t:
“Machiavellian, ain’t I?”
Victoria Azarenka Seeks Respectful Silence From Spectators
What she said:
“I would love people to be a bit more respectful and turn off their cell phones and just come and watch tennis and respect that players are doing their job.”
Azarenka, along with Maria Sharapova, is considered one of the worst offenders when it comes to grunting and shrieking on court among women tennis divas.
What she really meant:
“You should put those cell phones in silent mode and just take pictures or videos of me. Let me take care of the decibel levels. That’s my job, isn’t it? Isn’t that what you turn up for? Grunty Azarenka!”
What she definitely didn’t:
“Now, if I could just discover my ‘silent mode‘.”