Maria Sharapova may avoid four-year drugs ban
Last Updated: 09/03/16 8:45am
Maria Sharapova may be spared the maximum four-year ban for failing a drug test if she can prove she has a condition which requires the treatment she took, an anti-doping expert has said.
Five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova announced on Monday she had tested positive for a substance called meldonium at this year's Australian Open.
Meldonium was placed on the banned list by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the beginning of the year, having been part of its monitoring programme throughout 2015.
Sharapova said she had legally taken the medication since 2006 to deal with health issues including an irregular heartbeat.
Grindeks, the Latvian company which manufactures meldonium - banned by WADA as it aids oxygen uptake and endurance - says the normal course of treatment for the drug is four to six weeks.
"Depending on the patient's health condition, treatment course of meldonium preparations may vary from four to six weeks. Treatment course can be repeated twice or thrice a year," said Grindeks in a statement.
"Only physicians can follow and evaluate patient's health condition and state whether the patient should use meldonium for a longer period of time."
Sharapova will be provisionally suspended from tennis later this week and could face a ban of up to four years.
However, former UK Sport anti-doping chief Michele Verroken believes she could receive "a minimum of a one-year ban" if she can prove she needed to take the drug for medical purposes.
"This is a strict liability issue and to test positive, as it were, for a prohibited substance is a strict liability matter," Verroken told Sky Sports News HQ.
"You are responsible for what is found in your sample, you are responsible for what goes into your body.
"So, to just say that you didn't notice it had been added to the list will not be considered the excuse to totally evaluate an sanction.
"Now the challenge facing Maria Sharapova and her team is to bring forward the diagnostic evidence that she has a condition that required the prescription of this treatment.
"But if she can actually prove that she may get some leniency from the disciplinary panel."
Sharapova, who has been suspended by sponsors Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche, says she accepts "full responsibility" for her actions but former British No 1 Jo Durie believes the Russian might have expected more help from people around her.
Durie does not believe the former world No 1 is a drugs cheat either, saying it was a "very big mistake" that she is going to pay the price for.
"Everyone's shocked and it's just one big mistake isn't it from Maria and her team, who didn't pick this up," said Durie.
"Maria has stood up and said ultimately that it's her responsibility, she's the athlete and she should check. But when you get to the top of your sport you are surrounded by a team of people who really should be advising you and checking and doing all these things.
"I just think it's very sad that this has happened.
"I think that Maria is, in my opinion, an honest person who's made a very big mistake; she's going to pay for it.
"I don't think she's a drugs cheat, I really don't, I think she's been caught out with something she thought was perfectly okay to take and then didn't check the lists."