Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova announced this past week that she failed a drug test during the Australian Open, testing positive for the drug Meldonium. Meldonium was added to the banned substances list by the World Anti-Doping Agency earlier this year. Sharapova explained that she used the drug for the past 10 years but stopped short of taking responsibility for using a banned substance. The drug is allowed in Russia and Eastern Europe, and Sharapova claimed she did not intend to cheat and had no idea the drug was recently banned when she took it.
It’s one thing for Sharapova or any other athlete to neglect scrutinizing the legalities of her training diet, but it’s another for the people recommending the diet to ignore something like the WADA prohibited list. What’s the point of being the most dedicated professional in the tennis world if you can’t put together a professional group of trainers? Sharapova needs to strongly consider firing her trainers.
Although the World Anti-Doping Code provides for a four-year maximum penalty of ineligibility, Sharapova is not likely to face such a lengthy suspension. The code provides an athlete with due process and an opportunity to reduce her sanction in certain circumstances where she did not intend to cheat, and Sharapova’s story is more of the same, in the fight against doping in sports. Numerous athletes from all over the sports spectrum are continually tested and sanctioned in accordance with the WADA. The code is clear that every athlete has a "personal duty" to ensure that no banned substance enters his or her body.
Prior to the establishment of the WADA in 1999 and the concurrent adoption of the code, athletes avoided penalties by claiming they did not know an illegal substance was banned or that they did not intend to dope. Sanctions were only imposed if an athlete was found to be at fault. The agency became interested in Meldonium because it was appearing in many athlete samples. Sharapova claims she was using it for medical purposes.
Sharapova’s sanctions will be important and very public, indicating where the country is in the movement against doping in sports. Russia’s scandal presents a significant challenge to the WADA’s effectiveness and legitimacy. The World Anti-Doping Agency cannot afford to let the International Tennis Federation go easy on such a high-profile athlete.