The International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced its decision on Wednesday morning to ban five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova from competition for two years as a result of her violating anti-doping rules.
In response to the ITF's punishment, Sharapova, 29, posted a lengthy retort on her Facebook page, detailing her side of the "unfairly harsh" decision, indicating that she plans to appeal the ITF's ban.
According to Sharapova, the ITF suggested a four-year ban, which is standard for such violations. An independent tribunal, consisting of three individuals appointed by the ITF, ultimately levied a two-year ban, likely because Sharapova, a first-time offender, was the first to admit her failed Australian Open drug test in March and was found to have taken the banned drug without intentionally knowing it was not permissible, according to the tribunal's report. Sharapova was provisionally suspended on March 12, and has been defending herself against the ITF's charges since.
At the time of her admission, Sharapova claimed she's been taking the banned substance meldonium for the past 10 years due to undisclosed health reasons. Melondium was recently added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited substance list in January, citing potential PED (performance-enhancing drug) use. The tribunal found that Sharapova hadn't been taking the substance under the care of a doctor -- when the drug is usually prescribed by doctors, the patient only takes doses for up to six weeks. Still, Sharapova and the tribunal both state that she took the drug without any intention to cheat; however, the tribunal faulted her for not checking to see whether the recently prohibited drug was banned.
Melondium has been found in one study to increase athletic endurance and speed up recovery time, but the maker of the drug, Grindeks, has stated that it could actually hurt, not help, athletic performance. The Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve the drug, which is available without a prescription in many Eastern European countries, for use in the United States. It remains unclear how Sharapova obtained melondium, as she's lived in the U.S. since the age of 7.
If Sharapova's ban is upheld, her professional tennis career would be in serious jeopardy. Her primary sponsor, Nike, suspended its relationship with her in March, and other endorsers like Tag Heuer and Porsche have followed suit. At age 29, Sharapova has been beset by injuries in recent seasons, and emerging from her proposed ban on the wrong side of 30 would undoubtedly hurt her standing as a consistent Grand Slam contender.