Intentionally omitting information on doping control forms could end in a ban from all sport as demonstrated by the two-year ban handed down to former tennis number one Maria Sharapova.
Drug Free Sport NZ (DFSNZ) Operations Manager Scott Tibbutt says the International Tennis Federation ruling sends a clear message that athletes must be accountable for what they take.
“The suspension unequivocally confirms that athletes must be 100 percent responsible for what they put into their bodies,” Mr Tibbutt says.
Sharapova’s support team including coach Sven Groeveveld, her trainer and physio were all unaware she was taking it. Mr Tibbutt says being cagey about what you take even if you do not believe it to be prohibited is a formula for serious problems.
“Even though Sharapova stated she’d been taking Meldonium for ten years, the fact that she didn’t disclose using the drug to any of her support personnel and omitted it from doping control forms is really secretive. Taking substances for the purpose of enhancing performance which clearly applied in this case makes it doubly important that you are certain of its status,” he says.
“If she had been taking Meldonium for medical reasons since 2006, then why didn’t anyone know about it? Had Sharapova been open about what she was taking she would likely have avoided the problem altogether or at least had a better argument for a reduction in penalty.”
His comments come after reading the International Tennis Federation ruling which states ‘there was, in 2016 no diagnosis and no therapeutic advice supporting the continuing use of Mildronate (Meldonium). If she had believed that there was a continuing medical need to use Mildronate then she would have consulted a medical practitioner. The manner of its use on match days and when undertaking intensive training, is only consistent with an intention to boost her energy levels’.
The 33-page ruling by a three-person independent panel convened by the ITF highlighted the fact that Sharapova kept her Meldonium use very quiet. The ruling also included examples of how often she took the prohibited drug.
According to reports, Sharapova took it six times in seven days at Wimbledon in 2015 (before it was banned in sport) and five times in seven days at this year’s Australian Open.
The ruling stated that ‘she must have known that taking medication before a match, particularly one not currently prescribed by a doctor, was of considerable significance. This was a deliberate decision, not a mistake’.
An appeal by Sharapova’s legal team over being handed the two year ban could also backfire, with Mr Tibbutt saying Sharapova may have been lucky to have the penalty reduced from the maximum four years.
“An appeal puts her in jeopardy of an increased penalty as much as it may allow for a reduction,” says Mr Tibbutt.
Sharapova is one of the highest profile athletes to be banned from sport this year and her case has seen an increase in visits by New Zealand athletes to the Drug Free Sport NZ medications hotline and text service.
For the full ITF Ruling, please click here