Tuesday, March 08, 2016

TENNIS TUESDAY: Sharapova Stuns Tennis World With Admission Of Failed WADA Test

5-time major champion Maria Sharapova piqued the attention of the world press when she announced over the weekend that she would be giving a press conference in Los Angeles on Monday, just hours after football legend Peyton Manning was scheduled to confirm his retirement from the world's most lucrative sport. This led to speculation that perhaps the 28-year-old Russian would announce her own retirement from tennis on Monday.

Instead, the highest paid female athlete in the world announced that she had recently received a letter from the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) that she had failed a drug test at the 2016 Australian Open. Apparently she had tested positive for the substance meldonium from a sample provided to WADA on January 26 (during the Australian Open), which had been added to list of banned substances on January 1, 2016.

Sharapova gave a press conference where she took full responsibility for the failed drug test and said that she had been taking meldonium since 2006 and that although she had received an email with a link to the new list of unapproved substances she did not personally look at the new list. Meldonium is not a drug that is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (it is manufactured in Latvia).

There are many more questions raised by Sharapova's press conference. Here are just a few:
  1. How long will she be banned from tennis for this infraction? (She has already been officially banned from professional tennis starting March 12, 2016.)
  2. How did the most highly paid female athlete in tennis not have someone on her staff who regularly checks the list of substances the athlete takes and compares it to the current list of banned substances maintained by WADA?
  3. Does Sharapova take the drug every day? What is the half-life of meldonium? Depending on how long meldonium remains in the system, perhaps 25 days after she stopped taking it, she tested positive for it. After all, if she had smoked marijuana on December 31st, it's very possible she could have tested positive for THC 3-4 weeks later.
  4. Why has Sharapova been taking this drug for the last 10 years, and what effect does this have on her legacy as a player if she used a now-banned substance to (presumably enjoy an) advantage in tennis competitions for the vast majority of her professional career?
  5. Will she be able to play in the Rio Olympics?
Sharapova is 28 (turns 29 next month) and an extensive ban at this time could push her into announcing her retirement for real this time, a reality she herself acknowledged when she said "I don't want to end my career this way, and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

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