Maria Sharapova has been banned for two years after failing a drug test at the Australian Open, the International Tennis Federation has announced.
But the 29-year-old Russian says she will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the court of arbitration for sport.
Sharapova’s suspension is backdated to January 26 this year, when she tested positive for the prohibited substance meldonium.
The five-time grand slam champion will miss the Olympic Games in Rio this summer while the earliest grand slam she could next compete in will be the French Open in 2018.
Sharapova was provisionally suspended in early March after revealing she had tested positive for meldonium at that year’s Australian Open. She will not be allowed to compete until 26 January 2018.
The 29-year-old Russian said she had been using the substance, under the name of mildronate, after it was prescribed by her doctor in 2006 to deal with health issues such as an irregular heartbeat and a history of diabetes in her family.
Sharapova responded to the ruling with a statement on her Facebook account. It read: “Today with their decision of a two year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional. The tribunal found that I did not seek treatment from my doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance.
“The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not. You need to know that the ITF asked the tribunal to suspend me for four years – the required suspension for an intentional violation – and the tribunal rejected the ITF’s position.
“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension.
“The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“I have missed playing tennis and I have missed my amazing fans, who are the best and most loyal fans in the world. I have read your letters. I have read your social media posts and your love and support has gotten me through these tough days. I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.”
Meldonium was on Wada’s watch list last year and in September the agency announced it would be banned from the start of 2016, citing “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance”.
Sharapova’s results at the Australian Open, where she lost to Serena Williams in the quarter-finals, as well as her prize money and ranking points earned at the event have also been disqualified.
The Independent Tribunal’s report concluded: “The contravention of the anti-doping rules was not intentional as Ms Sharapova did not appreciate that Mildronate contained a substance prohibited from 1 January 2016.
“However she does bear sole responsibility for the contravention, and very significant fault, in failing to take any steps to check whether the continued use of this medicine was permissible.
“If she had not concealed her use of Mildronate from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the contravention would have been avoided. She is the sole author of her own misfortune.”
This article was written by Guardian sport, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 8th June 2016 17.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010