Maria Sharapova announced today she has failed a drug test taken on January 26, after her quarterfinal loss to Serena Williams at this year’s Australian Open. Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam Champion and one of the highest-profiled tennis stars, announced the news in Los Angeles at an impromptu news conference.
“I received a letter from the ITF [International Tennis Federation] a few days ago that I had failed a drug test,” Sharapova said, relaying the news contained in a letter from the governing body. “I take full responsibility for it.”
The drug cited by the ITF was meldonium, which Sharapova said had not been listed by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Code for 10 years, the length of time she has been prescribed the medication by a family doctor. However on January 1 “the rules had changed and meldonium had become a prohibited substance, which I had not known.”
“As meldonium is a non-specified substance … Sharapova will be provisionally suspended with effect from 12 March,” the ITF reported. She was charged on March 2, last Wednesday, with the anti-doping rule violation. Sharapova, though, said she did not know the consequences of her actions because she had not clicked on a link in an email that announced the newly included banned substance.
Sharapova’s doctors prescribed the medicine in 2006 for several health reasons, one being as a preventative measure to combat the possibility of diabetes, which runs in her family.
“It’s very important for you to know that this drug was not on the WADA banned list,” Sharapova emphasized. “Therefore, I had been legally taking the medicine for the past ten years.”
“Over my long career, I have been very open and honest about many things,” she began. “I take great responsibility and professionalism in my job, every single day. And, I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down and the sport down, which I’ve been playing since the age of four. I know that with this there will be consequences. And, I don’t want to end my career this way and I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game.”
Many people had expected Sharapova to announce her retirement this afternoon, due to chronic injuries and the fact that she had played only three tournaments over the last eight months.
“I know that many of you thought I was retiring,” Sharapova said. “But, if I was ever going to do announce my retirement it probably won’t be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with this fairly ugly carpet.” Her comment was the only bit levity injected in to what was otherwise a shocking admission from the wealthiest woman in sports.
Sharapova did not blame her team of coaches for missing the changes made to the WADA drug list. She said her body was her own, that she should have known. “At the end of the day, everything you do is about you.”