As many of you know, tennis was rocked by scandal earlier this year after Maria Sharapova tested positive for meldonium. The problem with this is that as of September 16th 2015, it was approved that meldonium be added to the list of banned substances. Here’s a quick recap of what the substance does:
· Increases oxidation of the blood (to allow for greater cardiovascular training)
· Increases exercise capacity and exercise tolerance
· Improves attentiveness and memory capacity
Now these aren’t all the benefits of this banned drug, but I can tell you from my experience training and competing professionally in tennis that any athlete would go above and beyond for the opportunity to increase their capacity to exercise. This means that an athlete will be able to perform for longer periods of time without tiring. Lets not forget it allows you to push your muscles further than would be allowed naturally. To put it in perspective: It allows her to outlast her opponents, recover faster, and play more tournaments. This also means that it aids in injury recovery and prevention. Rightfully, she was suspended upon testing positive for the substance. Which leads us to the problem today.
Last month, the World Anti-Doping Agency released a notice saying that athletes who had tested positive for the drug (meldonium) before March 1, with less than 1 μg/mL (one microgram) found in their system, could be reprieved. WADA’s notice also stated that if the organization found that an athlete who tested positive and/or above the 1 μg/mL could not reasonably have known or suspected that meldonium would still be present in his/her body on or after 1 January 2016, then a finding of no fault or negligence may be made. Depending on the amount of meldonium in her system at the time of the test, it appears that tennis’ blonde poster child may be getting off the hook, and I’m not here for it.
First of all, let me start off by pointing out the fact that Maria admitted to using the substance for 10 years for her “heart condition.” I’m not a doctor but I’d bet a pretty penny that using a substance for 10 years will absolutely leave an amount of meldonium greater than one microgram in her system. In fact, Sergey Betov, a player on the International Tennis Federation (ITF or Federation), tested positive for meldonium at a level of 136 ng/mL (.136 micrograms) after taking Mildronate tablets a mere six weeks from October to November in 2015. So Sharapova will likely blow the one microgram limit out of the water, and WADA’s new policy gives her the opportunity to escape any significant punishment. She merely needs to make the claim that she didn’t know that so much residual of the drug would be left in her system (a drug that she intentionally took to gain a competitive edge) and WADA and the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) can let her off the hook. Don’t think it could happen? Think again.
I’m not being cynical. We’ve seen it happen before. This situation isn’t dissimilar from the situation that occurred in the 1990s when Andre Agassi got away with using methamphetamine. At the height of his fame, Agassi tested positive for a Schedule II drug and it went completely unnoticed and unpenalized. Apparently, Agassi defended his positive test by saying he was unaware that he had ingested the substance and must have been slipped it. Riiiight, so someone slipped you meth and you didn’t know it?? This unrealistic assertion is one that the tennis star would later go on to recant. Yet, the ITF found a way to make a concession in an effort to protect the sport and Agassi from scandal. Sharapova’s stature in the sport and in sports marketing is arguable larger than Agassi’s was at the time and would absolutely encourage the WTA and WADA to make the same concession for Sharapova. This cannot be allowed to happen again.
The Federation overlooked Andre Agassi’s violation and seemingly the WADA is setting the WTA up to go the same route. This case, and Agassi’s, further perpetuate the unfair treatment in the sport. Any amount of a banned substance equals banned substance in the system. Tennis should not make exceptions for an admitted user, no matter how big of a star she is. If Serena Williams was in the same situation, I have no doubt that she would have already been sentenced, suspended to the max and “made an example of.” In fact, for a MUCH lesser offense, Williams felt the wrath of the tennis world. Remember back in 2009 when Williams had her infamous on-court rant at the U.S Open? Well immediately following the match she was punished severely for her actions. Specifically, she was fined a whopping $82,500 and placed on probation for simply losing her cool. She didn’t cheat, she didn’t take federally prohibited drugs…she showed a little frustration.
The problem that I, and many fans of the sport, have with this is that Williams wasn’t the first player to have an epic meltdown. Tennis legend John McEnroe was famous for having similar (and worse) rants in his prime and he was not punished for his actions. And he certainly wasn’t subjected to the harsh commentary that Williams had to endure following her incident. No, instead tennis punished arguably the greatest female tennis athlete of all time, who happens to be a black woman, who also holds 21 Majors, and let McEnroe, a white male with a less illustrious career, go free. It’s all unacceptable.
Now back to Maria. Since she has blonde hair, blue eyes and 100 million dollar contracts, I can just feel that the WTA is trying to find (and create) any loophole possible for Sharapova. This defamation of the sport must not be tolerated and Sharapova must not be allowed to slide by. She must be held accountable just as I would if I would fail a drug test. I’ll say it again to Sharapova and the WTA: Admittedly failing a drug test, no matter how much of the substance is in your system is still failing the drug test. Hold her accountable.
Written by: Gabriel Townes
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