Playing Judge, Jury and Executioner

There is nothing more damaging to a professional athlete’s image, than being found guilty of ingesting a banned substance.  In some cases, such an act can be a career ending move.  It has been in the past.  In Tennis, players who have been found irrevocably guilty of doping, have rarely made successful comebacks to tour.  Mariano Puerta and Wayne Odesnik, come to mind.

However, players and fan alike, are more forgiving when it is proven that the player did not mean to cheat and rather was the victim of an unfortunate string of events, leading to more unfortunate circumstances.  Look no further than Richard Gasquet or Marin Cilic as the prime examples of this case.  Marin Cilic put together a fine run to become the US open champion, after his comeback from a very dangerous brush with tennis law.

So what’s different with Maria Sharapova?  In theory, her case should be similar to that of Gasquet and Cilic.  In reality though, it couldn’t be further from the truth.  Speculate all you may, but Maria Sharapova was found guilty of negligence and carelessness, that led to the ingestion of a substance, barely a few days after it made the banned list.  She was subsequently banned from playing professional tennis for fifteen months, and is back.  Yet the reception has been antagonistic at best.  The question is why?

My growing theory has to do with something that has plagued the Russian star throughout her career.  Her popularity with the players and the fans.  Her human connection.  It has been severely lacking, for a star so big.  Sharapova is popular… don’t get me wrong.  She is very popular.  However, she is hardly a personal favorite of many… both professional players and fans alike.  Raised to be the consummate professional, she has distanced herself from locker-room fandom and any other interactions she considers a distraction.  The result has been a hugely successful career with a lot of brooding resentment.  The problem with that is when something like this happens.  That resentment comes to the surface and influences how people have chosen to receive her comeback.

I understand the emotions with Sharapova and in some cases I understand the verbal diatribe she has received (expect for Eugene Bouchard’s which was in my opinion, extreme), but facts are facts.  Sharapova was banned for her carelessness and she has served her time.  She is also a five time grand slam champion and the WTA could do with the consistent star power she brings to the table right about now.  If she gets a wildcard, it is because the tournament sees her as deserving of it.

Besides, everyone deserves a second chance don’t they?  Judges, Jury, Executioners?


Categories: Doping, Sports, Tennis, WTA

Tagged as: ,

6 replies »

  1. The difference here is that Sharapova most definitely had the intent to cheat, something that can be easily inferred from the fact that she did not disclose her activities to her own team, let alone the authorities (and also when she said her team is looking for alternatives to meldonium).

    What has really pissed everyone off is the fact that she has projected this holier than thou attitude without at all accepting her mistakes in the slightest sense of the word (remember, she’s blamed the authorities for not informing her).

    I think the Cilic and Gasquet examples hold absolutely no weight in this context (they were honest mistakes, definitely in the case of the former, with no intent to dope).

    Tennis doesn’t need Maria Sharapova (especially Maria Sharapova). The WTA shouldn’t adopt such a shady stance on things just to increase their viewership. It sends out a very wrong message to the viewers of the sport.

    What is especially shocking is the number of “journalists” condoning her behaviour and actions.

    She was wrong. She got let off the hook rather easy to be honest.

    • Hey Arsh,

      I most definitely understand your point of view and can even understand your pain at the integrity of the sport possibly being compromised.

      However, the fact remains that after a series of hearings, Sharapova was found guilty of “carelessness” rather than intentional doping. Her suspension could have been longer – she was in danger of missing four years – but giving the extenuating circumstances and the controversy regarding whether Meldonium is really an enhancer or not, I felt like 15 months was appropriate.

      There are still positives to take away from this event. For starters, Maria Sharapova was banned. I felt like she deserved a ban. That level of carelessness is unacceptable. I’m glad that despite her status and star power, the governing bodies had the courage to do that. It sends a message to other high profile players. “You mess up even slightly, and you will do your time.”

      Secondly it exposed the inefficiencies is WADA’s classification of performance enhancing substances. That needs to be investigated further. WADA has to be more decisive when it comes to banning substances and it has to be sure. It cannot ban based on possibles. Possibles can always be argued. Facts cannot.

      As for the wild card entries, again, I think there is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Sharapova DID admit fault in this and served her time. She is back and I think she’s been punished enough. We should learn not to punish to destroy, but to correct. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt. She’s been corrected. Now can we play some tennis?

      Thanks for commenting!

      • I agree that she was found guilty of “carelessness” and not intentional doping. But don’t you think that was due to a technicality rather than the truth?

        I agree that the evidence regarding the performance enhancing abilities of Meldonium are debatable. But when the entire Russian contingent has been using the drug (all of them for heart related conditions?), the intent to dope is rather obvious. While I agree that there is a possibility that Meldonium isn’t all that great a performance enhancing drug, she has taken the drug because someone who does know the science has told her to take it (she quite understandably doesn’t). Would you say this isn’t doping?

        I’m not saying she should be punished for the above actions (because Meldonium was legal at the time and she was perfectly within her rights to use it). But it does considerably detract from her image, possibly why she’s so intensely disliked now. Because she used the technicalities to her advantage.

        It also brings the integrity of the other players into question. What if they have been using a similarly “legal” PED?

        I’m not sure if my respect for her will ever return.

        Sorry if I’m a little on the extreme on this issue but it is something I feel very strongly about.


  2. Sharapova tried to cheat. If the meldonium was for a medical condition, why didn’t she declare it in her medical form and why did she keep it away from most of her team?

    • I don’t know if we’ll ever get the answers to that. However, the hearing for her case MUST have considered that in their verdict, don’t you think?

      • They did. CAS based their ruling on the principle that the WTA should have PERSONALLY told Sharapova about the changes. Do the WTA have the manpower to personally reach out to thousands of players under it? Sharapova got off lightly mainly cos of her star power.

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