The five-time Grand Slam champion and former world No.1 Maria Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at January’s Australian Open after the substance had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) list of banned substances that month. She received a provisional suspension on March 12.
Sharapova faced an anti-doping panel in London on May 18, where she hoped to avoid a heavy punishment and collect a ban of between 6 and 12 months. That has not transpired and she will now no longer be able to play competitive tennis until January 25 2018, by which time she will be 30.
The 29-year-old has already confirmed she will appeal the decision.
In a statement the ITF announced: “An Independent Tribunal appointed under Article 8.1 of the 2016 Tennis Anti-Doping Programme has found that Maria Sharapova committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under Article 2.1 of the Programme and as a consequence has disqualified the affected results and imposed a period of ineligibility of two years, commencing on 26 January 2016.
“At a two-day hearing on 18-19 May 2016, the Independent Tribunal received evidence and heard legal arguments from both parties, and subsequently issued a reasoned decision on 8 June, which is available below. The Independent Tribunal determined that
Ms. Sharapova should serve a period of ineligibility of two years;
Due to her prompt admission of her violation, that period of ineligibility should be back-dated… to commence from 26 January 2016 (the date of sample collection) and so should end at midnight on 25 January 2018
Her results at the 2016 Australian Open should be disqualified, with resulting forfeiture of the ranking points and prize money that she won at that event.
“The Tennis Anti-Doping Programme applies to all players competing at Grand Slam tournaments and events sanctioned by the ITF, ATP, and WTA. Players are tested for substances prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency and, upon a finding that an Anti-Doping Rule Violation has been committed, sanctions are imposed under the Programme in compliance with the requirements of the World Anti-Doping Code.”
In a statement on her Facebook page Sharapova announced her decision to appeal against the ITF’s decision, claiming that “the ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not.
“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension. The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“I have missed playing tennis and I have missed my amazing fans, who are the best and most loyal fans in the world. I have read your letters. I have read your social media posts and your love and support has gotten me through these tough days. I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.”
Despite her impending ban Sharapova was included in Russia’s Olympic squad for Rio along with Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Daria Kasatkina. Her place will now be taken by Ekaterina Makarova.
In a March press conference Sharapova admitted she had been taking meldonium since 2006 as part of a treatment prescribed by a trusted family doctor, adding that she had not read Wada’s updated 2016 list of banned substances, which she had received on December 22 last year.
“I take great responsibility and professionalism in my job every day. I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let the sport down,” she said.