Newspaper article International New York Times

Sharapova's Career Hangs in Balance

Newspaper article International New York Times

Sharapova's Career Hangs in Balance

Article excerpt

Maria Sharapova deserves a suspension, but not one that would effectively end her career. There are other actors who share responsibility for tennis' drug problem, Chris Clarey writes.

Maria Sharapova has been cleared of intentionally cheating by an International Tennis Federation tribunal, but she and her advisers hardly have emerged unscathed.

For a tennis champion long viewed as detail-oriented, from the cut of her tennis outfits to the breadth of her business portfolio, there was clearly a whole lot of bumbling going on behind the scenes in one crucial area.

The system she and her agent Max Eisenbud used to track changes in anti-doping regulations was not much of a system at all. It was dependent on Sharapova's opening the right email. It was dependent, if testimony is to be believed, on Eisenbud -- an able contract negotiator but no medical expert -- taking his annual beach vacation so he could sit down and sift through the new anti-doping particulars.

Nope. Sharapova, the self-styled global brand, was far from world class in this sector, and the last line of the conclusion in the I.T.F. decision is a swift kick to the chops: "She is the sole author of her own misfortune."

It is a pithy, Dickensian line. It is also misleading in light of the gaffes made by other authors during meldonium's precipitous journey onto the banned list.

Meldonium would likely not yet be on that list if the World Anti- Doping Agency had taken the time and care it should have taken to determine how long meldonium can remain in an athlete's system and to further analyze its true performance-enhancing effects.

Others could have done more or better, too, including Eisenbud, Sharapova's loyal agent, whose explanations to the I.T.F. panel left them thoroughly unconvinced and hurt her cause.

But the anti-doping rules are clear -- and rightly so -- that ultimate responsibility lies with the athlete, not the entourage. Delegate at your peril, and now Sharapova -- a 29-year-old diva with five major singles titles -- has been banned for two years by the I.T.F . panel.

"Unfairly harsh," she maintains, and her appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (C.A.S.) should be heard sometime in July, with a final and binding ruling soon to follow.

Whatever C.A.S. decides, an important message has been delivered. No tennis superstar is above the law in a sport too long suspected of protecting its superstars through weak anti-doping efforts and soft I.T.F . rulings.

Sharapova got out in front of the news in March by announcing her provisional suspension and acknowledging her mistake. The I.T.F. accepted the argument that she never would have used meldonium before every match at the Australian Open in January if she knew it had been banned.

She now faced a suspension of no less than one year but no more than two. …

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