Tennis player Maria Sharapova is set to appeal to a two-year ban for doping imposed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) on Wednesday. She called her suspension “unfairly harsh”.
Sharapova was banned for testing positive for the controversial banned medication meldonium during January’s Australian Open.
The ruling by an independent three-person panel appointed by the International Tennis Federation said Sharapova did not intend to cheat because she didn’t know meldonium was banned, but that she bore “sole responsibility” and “very significant fault” for the positive test.
“The ITF asked the tribunal to suspend me for four years – the required suspension for an intentional violation — and the tribunal rejected the ITF’s position,” the tennis player wrote on her verified facebook page.
“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension. The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” said the Russian in a statement addressed to her fans.
In a statement the ITF said the 29-year-old and five-times grand slam champion’s ban would be back-dated to Jan. 26 this year, meaning her results from the Australian Open where she reached the quarter-finals, would be disqualified.
Sharapova, at the time the world’s highest-paid female athlete, stunned the sporting world in March when she announced that she had tested positive for meldonium, a drug she said she had been taking for a decade to treat diabetes and low magnesium.
Meanwhile, lawyers representing the ITF argued their side while Sharapova insisted that she took the drug unintentionally.
“This was a deliberate decision, not a mistake,” the ITF said. “Taken together with the evidence that over a period of three years she did not disclose her use of mildronate to her coach, trainer, physio, nutritionist or any medical adviser she consulted through the WTA, the facts are only consistent with a deliberate decision to keep secret from the anti-doping authorities the fact that she was using mildronate (also known as meldonium) in competition.”
In addition to testing positive at the Australian Open, the ITF said she also failed a test for meldonium in an out-of-competition control in Moscow on Feb. 2.
Sharapova was provisionally suspended by the ITF in early March, after she announced at a news conference in Los Angeles that she failed a doping test in January.
Meldonium was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of banned substances at the start of the year after evidence that it boosted blood flow and enhanced athletic performance.
The World Anti-Doping Agency said it would review the decision and decide whether or not to lodge its own appeal to CAS. WADA has the right to appeal if it feels a sanction is too lenient or too strong.
Sharapova’s ban is scheduled to end on January 25, 2018, which will effectively end her career.
(With inputs from agencies)