England – An independent tribunal from London decided to suspend Maria Sharapova, the famous Russian professional tennis player, from the court for two years. The court took the decision after listening to the two involved parties in a two-day hearing.

The legal process was to determine a sanction as the Russian player had already admitted the use of Meldonium. The decision was two years of ineligibility, but Sharapova’s legal team said they were going to appeal the length of the punishment.

Maria Sharapova at a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday. Sharapova says she has failed a drug test at the Australian Open. Credit: AP/Damian Dovarganes/Mashable

Sharapova said she didn’t know the drug was included in the ban list

On January 26, 2016, Maria Sharapova was participating at the Australian Open in Melbourne when she was asked a urine sample. She had finished her quarter-final match, and the procedure is totally normal after big games. The sample was sent to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Laboratories in Montreal, Canada for testing.

The researchers found Meldonium in it; a substance recently included in the World Anti-Doping Code. Consequently on March 2, she was charged with an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under Article 2.1 of the Programme, which is the presence of illegal substances in a sample, by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

When she received the notification, she immediately accepted the charges and by the Article 8, she asked for hearing before an independent tribunal. The legal process was scheduled for May 18 -19, 2016.

In the course of 2 days in London, the Independent Tribunal listened to the two parties involved, Maria Sharapova and her legal team, and the ITF. Sharapova had already accepted the charges, but she also said the ITF failed to warn her the substance was included in the ban list on January 1, 2016. She said she had been using Mildronate for ten years as part of a health plan prescribed by Dr. Anatoly Skalny.

The International Tennis Federation accepted That Sharapova did not know Meldonium, a component that is present in Mildronats, was recently included in the ban list. However, the organization stated that the Russian athlete had made an intentional violation by taking the drug without checking a possible violation of the Anti-Doping Code.

Sharapova accepted some degree of negligence, but her legal team wanted to reduce the ineligibility period. They consider two years is too much time thinking she did not know. Moreover, according to Sharapova, the ITF holds most of the fault because they failed to tell her. In the past, her samples repeatedly reported positive for the substance, so the organization knew or should have known she was using Meldonium.

In spite of all that, the decision remained, and Sharapova was suspended from the tennis court for two years, and so far, she is scheduled to come back on January 25, 2018.

“During games of special importance, you can increase your Mildronate dose to 3-4 pills (1 hr before the match). However, it is necessary to consult me on all these matters (please call)” reads one of the messages Dr. Anatoly Skalny sent Sharapova in 2006.

A two-year suspension might seem too severe

After winning Wimbledon, when she was 17, she started to report cold-like symptoms and fatigue. She and her father went to Dr. Skalny searching for a professional opinion. He considered many things including family history and prescribed a diet plan which included many supplements, Mildronate among them.

The objective of the treatment was to address the lack of energy and the other symptoms. This helped to establish that Sharapova did not seek the doctor to enhance her physical performance. But the story continues.

By 2012, the list of supplements prescribed by Dr. Anatoly had increased from the original 18 to 30 which made Sharapova reconsider the situation. She felt that taking that quantity of pills was not the correct approach anymore and decided to stop working with Skalny. She continued working with her nutritionist, Nick Harris, and the regime quickly changed. However, the tennis player continued to use 3 of the substances prescribed by her former doctor, Megnerot, Riboxin and of course, Mildronate.

She tried to defend that choice by saying that Dr. Skanly was very emphatic on the fact that those three products were meant to protect her heart and help her with a magnesium deficiency. Said defense was debunked as it was established the doctor never discussed those subjects with her. It only got worse for her when the committee discovered she did not seek advice from other physicians. She took the uninformed decision of continue using those three products.

Sharapova’s lawyer told the New York Times she will be provisionally suspended on March 12. Credit: Pursuitist

“She stated that she did not need another doctor to health plan, but instead hired a nutritionist. However she did not inform her nutritionist that she was continuing to take Mildronate, or, it seems, Magnerot or Riboxin.”

Some people also claim that the punishment is too severe due to the nature of Meldonium. In fact, her legal team brought a group of experts to assess the effectiveness of the substance as a performance enhancer. They successfully showed there is no proof the product gives athletes any advantages.

Nonetheless, it is critical to understand that the hearing was held to determine if Maria Sharapova was intentionally using something to get an advantage, even if it was deemed illegal by the Anti-Doping code. In other words, she had to convince the tribunal that she did not know it was illegal, and that she was not seeking to enhance her physical performance.

Source: ITF Tennis