The apologists can go on defending Maria Sharapova. But women’s tennis’s biggest brand has failed a dope test earlier this year, stands provisionally suspended till a ban is announced, and the sport will have to start learning to live with that fact. Within hours of Sharapova’s sensational revelations in Los Angeles, Nike, Porsche and Tag Heuer bailed from their sponsorships of the glamorous tennis star who has won five majors. And tennis, a sport still reeling from a match-fixing storm, has been struck by a wrecking ball of Sharapova-esque proportions, further dragging it down. This is the most high-profile failed drug test in sport in recent times, matching that of Ben Johnson
and Lance Armstrong.
Tennis will rue that moment when its most marketable face and sport’s highest-paid sportswoman, as also her management that worked painstakingly to shape her image, were so callous about opening an email that listed her medication as a banned substance. There was unequivocal acceptance of guilt in the press conference, where she owned up to the failed test. Establishing the alleged wrongdoing — or not — will take up the next few months. But Sharapova’s detractors will seize every excuse, even as her marketing profile starts losing sponsors and hits the brand, despite the cleverly and bravely addressed press conference.
Meldonium, the Latvian drug, is considered to be rampantly used across sports with The Times, London, quoting “182 positives” from the 8,300 random doping-control urine samples tested — a staggering number of those curing magnesium deficiencies and treating diabetic symptoms. It presents an almighty headache for the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) when sportspersons are seen to be pushing the limits of the anti-doping legal framework, availing of the loopholes even as Wada’s labs play catch-up. Sharapova looks prepared to grit it out. But sadly for tennis, the damage might already be done.