Maria Sharapova made the wrong move but has the right attitude
Russian tennis star and 5-time grand slam champion Maria Sharapova failed the dope test, but wanted to take full responsibility for her mistake, writes Michael Ferreira
I guess I am one among thousands, if not millions, of Maria Sharapova's fans. Apart from her achievements at her chosen sport, her graciousness in victory and dignity in defeat make her one of tennis' greatest role models.
Maria Sharapova reacts as she addresses the media about her failed drug test in Los Angeles on Monday. Pic/AFP
It is hardly surprising therefore that the news of her failing a drug test in the Australian Open earlier this year made me clutch at my forehead in anguish. "Why Maria why"? was my immediate reaction.
Forgot your past, Capriati?
The reaction of the sports world was equally horrified with Jennifer Capriati's Twitter posts (now deleted) being particularly furious. Capriati, a former World No 1, had been jailed for shop lifting and possession of marijuana some years ago, but hotly stated that she had never opted to cheat. She went on to accuse Sharapova of hiring doctors to 'get around the system'.
The action from Sharapova's sponsors was swift and uncompromising. Nike, with whom she had a contract reportedly worth $70 million over eight years suspended their relationship while the investigation continues. Tag Heuer with whom she had partnered since 2004 said that they were not renewing her contract which ended on December 31, 2015.
View in pictures: Sports stars who tested positive for doping
But on closer examination, she does seem to have a case for compassion. She had been taking the drug Mildronate for 10 years for some health issues and she had made sure that this drug was not on WADA's banned list. Unfortunately with effect from January 1 this year, Mildronate, which is also known as Meldonium, was added to the banned list and somehow because of this long, uninterrupted and legal use it "just fell off the radar" in the words of her lawyer John Haggerty.
True to character, the lady herself took the setback with impressive dignity. According to Haggerty she was stunned to receive the letter from the ITF that she had failed the test, but immediately wanted to come forward and take full responsibility for what had happened.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse and with her professionalism and sense of integrity she accepted that she will have to face the consequences of her mistake, however honest it might be. She also is aware that it an athlete's obligation to know everything that goes into his or her body. But, according to Haggerty, there is a laundry list of extremely mitigating circumstances that could result in a dramatic reduction of any sanction that might be imposed on her.
For me, what comes shining through this tragic chain of events is Sharapova's upright character and honesty. She has acknowledged that in her failure to keep abreast of developments in a vital area of every athlete's life, she has let down the sport and her legions of fans, but has expressed the hope that in the circumstances, she be given a second chance. There are many who may disagree, but I believe that she does deserve that second chance.