Maria Sharapova’s ban: justified or unfair?

Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova failed a drug test on Jan. 26 after her loss to Serena Williams in the Australian Open and was provisionally banned for up to four years by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on March 12. The ban could be reduced if anti-doping officials find that she did not intentionally use the banned drug for illegitimate reasons.

Sharapova was banned from playing tennis for taking a drug called meldonium, or milondrate, which is a drug that is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States, but has few regulations in Eastern Europe. Claiming to be unaware that the drug had been banned, Sharapova reported using the drug since 2006 in low doses prescribed by her physician for her immune deficiency and diabetic symptoms which ran in her family. However, critics accused her of abusing the drug by claiming that treatments lasted four to six weeks. On the drug label, it stated that the treatment should last from a few days to a few weeks.

Ranked as the highest earning female athlete in the world in 2015 by Forbes, Sharapova lost many of her sponsors, such as Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche following the report of the failed test, according to CNN. She has also been suspended from being a goodwill ambassador by the United Nations until the end of the investigation.  

Fellow players have weighed in on the issue as well. French tennis player Kristina Mladenovic has stated that Sharapova is a “cheat,” and that she herself “[doesn’t] like the mentality to be the best by playing with the rules,” according to ABC News. On the other hand, at a news conference, tennis player Novak Djokovic stated that it is too early to judge Sharapova and that the issue should be handed over to WADA for further insight.

“People need to wait before condemning Sharapova. However, it also is partially Sharapova’s fault for not checking the revised list of banned drugs, and if she is actually taking meldonium for medical reasons, telling officials earlier that she had a reason to take it,” said Sophomore Kaitlyn Vo.

Meldonium was developed in Latvia three decades ago, and is prescribed for circulatory and neurodegenerative issues. It is also used by athletes as a performance enhancement drug, offering athletes fast recovery, protection from stress, and faster central nervous system functions, according to the journal Drug Test Analysis. The drug was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency early this year after being closely inspected by officials in 2015.  

Following the recent ban, it may be difficult to determine whether other athletes may have used the drug for medical or athletic purposes. Especially in countries in Eastern Europe, there are numerous countries that have histories of banned drug abuse in various sports. However, athletes may claim that they took the drug for medical treatments and file a suit against bans from their sports. A week after Sharapova’s test, there were 98 other failed tests that were reported from Russia.

“Other athletes taking the drug for medical reasons who had not been aware of its ban should be upfront and provide the evidence that justifies their use. Otherwise, their use of the drug would be considered as an unfair advantage in their play and consequently, they would be banned like Sharapova,” said Sophomore Sean Sananikone.  

Sharapova’s case is likely not to be unique in the upcoming doping tests. Other athletes that are taking the drug need to be careful of how they present themselves to the officials and the public for there to be less misunderstandings. What remains of central importance is the future actions taken to prevent melanconium drug abuse and the thorough investigations for drug abuse in athletes.