ITF warns players over claiming ignorance
October 5th, 2016 at 1:16 pm
ITF warns players over claiming ignorance

Sports desk – Tennis players will not be able to plead ignorance if they test positive for banned substances, says the International Tennis Federation.

According to BBC ex-world number one Maria Sharapova, 29, had a two-year ban reduced to 15 months after the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) ruled she was not told about a change in the drug’s status.

She tested positive for meldonium less than a month after it was banned.

The ITF said “appropriate steps were taken to publicise any changes”.

But, in a statement, it added: “Nonetheless, we have reviewed, and will continue to review, our processes for communicating changes to the prohibited list to players with the aim of ensuring that no player can claim that they had not been fully informed.”

Sharapova is a five-time Grand Slam winner and was Forbes’ highest-paid female athlete for 11 consecutive years, until American Serena Williams moved above her this year.

The Russian, whose suspension is backdated to the date of her first positive test on 26 January 2016, can return to action on 26 April 2017.

“I have learned from this, and I hope the ITF has as well,” she said.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016 and an out-of-competition test on 2 February.

She said she had been taking the drug since 2006 for health reasons and was unaware it had been added to World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) banned list as she knew it only by the name mildronate.

However, the Cas appeal hearing said Sharapova was at fault for not giving her agent “adequate instructions” in checking Wada’s prohibited list and “failing to supervise and control” her agent.

Sharapova’s lawyer, John Haggerty, called the Cas decision “a stunning repudiation of the ITF” and that “it exposes the ITF decision for what it is – pure fiction”.

“As we demonstrated before Cas, not only did the tennis anti-doping authorities fail to properly warn Maria, if you compare what the ITF did with how other federations warned athletes of the rule change, it’s a night and day difference,” he added.

The chief executive – Johan Eliasch – of one of Sharapova’s sponsors, racquet manufacturer Head, said “justice had been served” and called the original ITF decision “wholly unfair”.

Eliasch said “there is no doubt Maria broke a rule” but he claims there are inconsistencies in the anti-doping regime and changes are needed.

“This calls into question the revelations about certain Olympic athletes who were granted therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for substances that could most certainly be considered performance enhancing and have been proven to be performance enhancing under significant clinical testing,” added Eliasch.