American sportswear manufacturer Nike have halted their $70 million contract with tennis superstar Maria Sharapova after she revealed on Monday that she tested positive for a banned substance at the Australian Open in January. In a statement the company said; “We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova. We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation.
The Russian, who encapsulated the hearts of the British public having won Wimbledon at the age of 17 in 2004, has been taking meldonium (also known as mildronate) for the past ten years and it has only been prohibited for use since the turn of the year. The ITF (International Tennis Federation) have confirmed that Sharapova will be suspended from the sport from 12 March, where she could face a lengthy spell from the court.
During her announcement, Sharapova admitted to taking full responsibility for her actions as she received information about the changes from the ITF in December but did not look at the follow up link; “I take responsibility for my professionalism in my job and made a big mistake. I know there will be consequences and I don’t want to end my career this way. I really hope that I will be given another chance to play tennis again. I can’t blame anyone but myself. I have let my fans down.”
Sharapova started taking meldonium, a drug that is prominent in Eastern Europe as she was falling ill regularly and to induce the risk of diabetes as her family has a history with the disease. Sharapova’s impending ban is a huge blow to the game as she is the highest earning female in any sport as she earns $30 million a year in endorsements according to Forbes. The tennis world has responded with conflicting views . Former world no.1 Jennifer Capriati said she was “angry and disappointed” with the news. The three-time grand slam winner added “In my opinion, if it’s all true every title should be stripped. This is other people’s lives as well.” However tennis icon Martina Navratilova claimed that she hoped “it’s an honest mistake” by the Russian.
The professional reputation of tennis has been disrupted this year with the match-fixing claims in January following a 9,000 word report and this will only lead to more outrage and doubt of this perceived prim and proper sport.
You can watch Sharapova’s announcement by clicking here