Tennis star pleads for 'another chance'
Nike halts $70m deal with Sharapova over drugs test
Sportswear giant Nike has suspended its contract with tennis star Maria Sharapova after the five-time Grand Slam champion admitted failing a drug test.
Sharapova, the world’s highest paid female athlete, admitted she tested positive for a banned substance at the Australian Open in January. She said she took “full responsibility” but claimed yesterday that she had been taking meldonium since 2006 and was unaware it was illegal.
On 1 January the rules changed and meldonium became a banned substance. “A few days ago, after I received a letter from the ITF, I found out it also has another name of meldonium, which I did not know,” she told a press conference. “I made a huge mistake.”
Nike said: “We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation.”
One analyst said the firm was taking a “proactive” approach following this latest stain on the sporting world which follows the scandal at football governing body Fifa which also led to conflict with sponsors.
The 28-year-old Russian signed a new eight-year contract with Nike in 2010 worth a reputed $70m.
Nike first sponsored her as a promising 11-year-old and she earned nearly $30m last year from winnings and endorsements, according to Forbes. Her other contracts are with top names including Evian, Tag Heuer and Porsche. She also models for Avon perfume, Luck.
Nike has suffered from other sporting stars hitting the rocks. It also severed ties with cyclist and drugs cheat Lance Armstrong and the sprinter Oscar Pistorius.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) said she would be provisionally suspended from 12 March.
Ms Sharapova she had been given the drug by her family doctor but had known the drug as mildronate.
She said: “I really love this game. I have let my fans down and let this sport down that I have been playing since the age of four.
“I know that with this I face consequences and I don’t want to end my career this way and I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game.”
The drug was developed in Latvia for heart patients that aids blood flow but is not approved for sale in the United States.
Athletes in several sports have reportedly tested positive for the substance since it was placed on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list this year after being on its Monitoring List in 2015.
One of those who reportedly failed a test was Abeba Aregawi, a Swedish runner who won the women’s 1,500 meters at the 2013 world championships.
Also on Monday, the Russian ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova announced that she had tested positive for meldonium at the 2016 European Figure Skating Championships, where she and her partner, Dmitry Soloviev, placed third.