Tennis authorities sent notices that meldonium would be banned.
When tennis star Maria Sharapova on Monday announced that she’d failed a drug test at the Australian Open, she accepted blame for the results. She waved off questions that perhaps the test results were the fault of her doctor or members of her training team. “I know that with this, I face consequences,” she said.
But in owning up to the mistake, Sharapova also claimed ignorance. She said that she was not aware that the illegal drug that turned up in her test, meldonium, had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned substance list on January 1.
If Sharapova wasn’t aware that the drug had been deemed illegal, it’s not because the information wasn’t there. And indeed Sharapova has admitted to not opening an email with a list of new banned drugs.
A report in the Times of London on Wednesday says that Sharapova had no fewer than five instances to learn about meldonium being added as an illegal substances. The newspaper says that in December, the International Tennis Federation and the Women’s Tennis Association issued a combined five separate warnings to tennis players—Sharapova included—that the drug would be added as a banned substance. That followed a general notice from the World Anti-Doping Agency in September.
Sharapova’s response didn’t go over as well with her sponsors as it did with fellow athletes. Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer, Nike and Porsche have all cut or suspended their ties with Sharapova, the world’s highest paid female sports star. On Wednesday, even the Kremlin distanced itself from Sharapova, who was born in Russia. Its spokesperson said that her failed drug test should not be “projected onto” the whole of Russian sport. (The same cannot be as easily said for a stunning report in November that accuses Russia of sponsoring a doping program for its athletes)
What ramifications the failed drug test will have on Sharapova’s career and her sponsors will be determined by the length of her suspension, which hinges, in part, on whether she listed meldonium on the medication form she filled out when she provided a sample for the drug test. She earned $29.5 million last year, mostly from endorsements. At the very least the mistake will likely cost her the $298,000 she won at the Australian Open in January, where the drug test was administered.