Sharapova

In case you missed it, and you almost certainly didn’t, Maria Sharapova was suspended by the World Tennis Association this week for using the banned substance meldonium. Sharapova claims that she was taking this medication for years to combat a number of health reasons, including an irregular heartbeat.

 

Let’s cut right to the chase. I would bet my life savings that Sharapova was taking this medication because of it’s purported performance enhancing effects. The same reason as a number of other athletes, including the 2013 World Champion over 1500m Abeba Aregawi, were taking it, and now have positive tests to their name.

 

Here’s the thing though – I don’t care if she was taking it for the performance enhancing effects. For the vast majority of the time that Sharpova was taking the drug, the substance wasn’t banned. It has only been banned since January 1st, a period of two and half months. If it isn’t banned, then athletes are allowed to take it.

 

Athletes take all manner of things to improve their performance. Take caffeine, for example. Caffeine definitely improves performance. It’s not banned, though it used to be. How about nicotine? Perfectly legal, and likely improves performance. I know for a fact a number of athletes use nicotine pre-race, and I guarantee they’re not doing it to try to quit smoking.

 

Athletes do plenty of other things that aren’t banned to improve their performance. Like training, for example. They hire a coach to tell them the best type of training to do. Countries and athletes with the most money can hire the best coaches, creating an uneven playing field. What about altitude training? If you’re lucky enough to live in a country with altitude, you’ve won the cosmic lottery. Or you can pay for yourself to go and train at altitude. I guarantee British Athletics don’t send athlete to Font Romeu because they like the view.

 

Athletes are always going to push the boundaries in order to have a chance at success. That is what happens when you introduce competition. But if it isn’t banned, then it isn’t cheating, and to say otherwise is incorrect. The athlete doesn’t set the rules of the sport, they just have to abide by them. Each athlete has to face their own moral and ethical decisions about whether they should or shouldn’t take a legal substance. Personally, I wouldn’t take meldonium, but I don’t despise the athletes that did before January 1st. As an athlete, you have to do everything in your power to stack the deck in your favour, to increase your chances of winning. That’s why we train, follow a strict diet, sleep, and sometimes take supplements. Every professional athlete has to look at themselves in the mirror and ask themselves if they have done everything within the rules to win.

 

Recently, I took part in an 8km obstacle race in Australia. 100kgs of body mass rather overheats over that distance, so I used paracetamol to bring it down and enable me to exercise for longer. I definitely did not have a headache. I was using a substance to improve my performance in a race. Paracetamol is not banned. Am I a dirty drugs cheat?

 

Would everyone have been furious if on December 31st 2015, Sharapova revealed that she had been taking a legal substance for 10 years to enhance her performance?

 

So, my point is – don’t judge Sharapova for taking this substance before January 1st 2016. However, you can absolutely judge her for taking it afterwards. The fact that she didn’t check the email from WADA is absolutely ludicrous. I cannot imagine doing this myself. Furthermore, WADA would have been constantly re-enforcing this rule change through official communications to the athletes.

 

Do I think that she deliberately took the medication after January 1st in order to cheat? No, I don’t. I do genuinely believe that she was unaware of the rule change, as stupid as that is. You simply would not continue to take a substance that you know will be tested for, at an event where you know you are very likely to get drug tested at. That would just be asking to get caught.

 

So, go easy when you’re moralising against Sharapova. This isn’t doping to the same extent as Lance Armstrong. In my opinion, it is not a deliberate and organised long term implementation of a doping programme; it’s just an athlete taking something that was legal, and then not following the rules closely enough. She absolutely deserves whatever ban comes her way, however, simply because of the complete unprofessionalism she has shown towards the anti-doping process.

28 thoughts on “Sharapova”

  1. Fabulous assessment in my opinion. The only thing I’d ask in addition is why did Nike not drop Armstrong for over a week after the 1,000 dossier fod USADA was published, and yet they dropped Sharapova within hours of her announcement. Have they learned a lesson or is it double standards?

  2. Good balanced article , but what would have been nice for a change is if she went one step further and said she was taking it for performance enhancement rather than some dodgy story about heart / diabetes issues….but I guess I am as gullible as those that think she really did take it for heart / diabetes issues to think she or any of the elite$$$ would ever confess to that !

  3. Great article! I agree that all she’s really guilty of is not following the rules closely enough. Ultimately it’s her responsibility and deserves whatever ban comes her way, but don’t millionaire tennis players travel the world with a huge entourage? I would have thought her personal nutritionist might have picked up on this rule change! Not a good week for him or her either!!

  4. Excellent article, hits the nail on the head! People like Nike need to take a long hard look at themselves in this too. Justin Gatlin has served two bans, never held his hands up, and gets a new sponsorship contract with them. Jo Pavey lost her deal with them for no apparent reason. Yesterday they suspended contract with Sharapova straight away!

  5. Good post Craig, I’ve been very critical I admit, but mainly because she shouldn’t sugar coat the reason for her taking the drug in the first place. She should just admit she used it to gain an edge. She’s going for the sympathy vote here.

  6. What you’re saying is true but she continues to lie about it, saying she was taking it for medical reasons. Yeah right.

  7. We can, and should judge her, regardless the substance’s banned status. We should judge her because of every athlete who didn’t use the substance; because of every athlete who knew about meldonium’s effects and chose not to take it. Sports are rampant with cheaters, and grey areas, and I would argue us fans only have so much respect to give—and complimentary (maybe essential) to that respect is judging the cheats, judging those with lower ethical standards. If you’re doing “everything in your power” to push the envelope and gain an advantage, I’ll save my respect for the athletes who take a stronger ethical stance on substances, banned or not.

  8. I would definitely say it was unethical to take that drug over the course of her career, basically.
    I think she definitely knew it was helping her physical performance and that’s why she took it.
    So she was lying when she said she took it because “it made her healthy”.
    Also referring to it as “medicine”… please.
    There are plenty of tennis players who do not take this “performance enhancing medicine” and it’s unfair to them to compete against a player who does.
    Where would Roger have been had he taken this little “medicine” over the course of his career?

  9. Sharapova yells at the top of her voice during all of her games and maches. She has used this tactic throughout her entire career and intimidated her opponents in a dishonest manner. It is shocking that up till today she was not stopped by any one from stealing points and games from her opponents in this sleezy way. Let her play without those extremely loud grunts and then we will see whether she is really as good as she pretends to be.

  10. Finally someone who pretends being a professional athlete and a Girl Scout aren’t the same thing, and to pretend they all just take vitamins is itself willful ignorance.

  11. Good blog – rational and balanced. Thank you. Unfortunately the current feeding frenzy on al matters PED now means that a sensible debate can’t take place.

  12. I can think of one reason why someone might continue to take a substance they know is banned and will be tested for so your assumption might be wrong; if they’ve been told there is a masking agent for that substance and so they would be under the impression they wouldn’t be caught and so they would not expect to get caught and that might also explain why so many other athletes have tested positive for it as well.

  13. A sensible and balanced view. Yes many coaches especially high performance coaches push the boundries with what is legal and when that changes they look elsewhere. Craig is right in saying that most top athletes look for any way to give them the edge especially when money is involved a few maybe more than a few cross the line. As he says it is up to the individual to look in the mirror and say “I am a cheat” unfortunately most will not.

  14. Firstly, great article, Craig. These are the exact points I feel everyone has missed.. Before ok, after 1st Jan not ok, It is that simple !!! Being a suffering Bomber supporter, I felt the same when Watson admitted on a Fox Footy show that he took a peptide, although it was not on the ASADA banned list, and he was booed from pillar to post, American Baseball, Basketball players all look for the supplement, formula to get the back playing asap., given the have to back up playing so many games. GeeI could go on about how I think the WADA code of being “comfortably satisfied ” does not sit well with me, but hey I am probably bias at this stage, what I will say, is Sharapova has to be investigated and given a chance to give her side of the case and then be held accountable. What I find more annoying about Maria, is the shrieking when playing, that I find to be cheating……because she is total quiet when practicing……..hmmmm.

  15. Hi Craig,

    You put forward an interesting viewpoint. If you were the adjudicator what time period of ban would be appropriate in the Sharapova case? Her lawyer seems to be confident it can be whittled down to a ban of 0 months.

  16. Awesome article, well done.

    I had a thought:
    A requirement that all athletes to notify relevant governing bodies(who then report to world bodies) of any and all medication/drugs history, current and future, including documentation such as prescription/doctors report, etc.
    Complete transparency on what athletes are on would allow for immediate notification of scheduled banning of substances.
    This could also aid in alerting of athletes should a substance be newly considered dangerous/damaging to a particular athlete.

    Anything athlete does not not notify use of and found, punishment accordingly.

    To me it seems there needs to be a more proactive approach through greater transparency, with onus on athlete.

    And if what Maria is saying is proven, that the information about the banning of the substance was hidden and/or difficult to find, then what better time to implement a more transparent approach to knowing what athletes are on and how to better inform them of changes.

  17. Great article in that it illustrates the fine line between being “professional” in one’s training which includes nutrition (direct or through supplements) and using drugs for performance enhancing (paracetamol use I call it therapeutical).

    Athletes using drugs like meldonium are obviously trying to beat the system, until the rules catch up with them and most of the time are doing an irreparable damage to their bodies! So is cheating just breaking the rules or is it also trying to beat the system?

    The problem with Sharapova is also that as she is so famous she is a bigger role model for younger kids and this type of cheating gives credence to the common belief that in order to succeed in professional sports and athletics you have to take drugs. This notion puts off a lot of parents and kids from pursuing sport professionally!
    Also unfortunately for Sharapova is that there is a widespread notion that tennis players use drugs and the WTA/ATP are covering their superstars up! Maybe Sharapova never thought she was going to be caught that’s why she was so cavalier about it (the drug was in the watch list for a year)
    In fact so far the reaction from WTA indicates so much as their public statements have been about Sharapova’s integrity and leadership (!) as opposed to their zero tolerance on drugs (the latter I believe would go down better with fans and sponsors).

  18. Meldonium was recklessly politically banned to stitch up Russian athletes.

    Most of the ones that “failed” a test due to Meldonium were later exonerated because their trace level was so low it was obvious it wasn’t taken after January 1st.

    In the case of Sharapova she simply didn’t notice it was banned and took it after January 1st. Now she gets a ban and endlessly propagandized as a doper. All for a over the counter pill that has no more affect than a caffeine pill.

    This all goes back to that Meldonium shouldn’t have even been banned. It should be removed from the banned list. WADA leadership should be removed. WADA should be moved to another country. And all these athletes should sue WADA and propagandists who have libeled and defamed them.

    So instead of putting this on Sharapova and demonizing her, people should be putting their venom onto WADA. Even if Sharapova would have stopped taking it before January 1st she would have still failed a test because WADA banned this without proper knowledge of trace data.

    Or even more sinister is they really did know how long it lasted.

    So either way Sharapova would have been defamed. Stop taking it before Jan 1st still fail test because of trace amount and propagandists label her a doper even though would have been exonerated later.

    Taking it after Jan 1st she fully fell into the politically set trap.

    Instead of just making her out to be an idiot for falling into this trap, the trap should be destroyed.

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