Maria Sharapova’s legal team is confident that her two-year ban imposed on Wednesday by the International Tennis Federation for taking the banned drug meldonium will be reduced on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
In a statement given to the Guardian on Wednesday, John J Haggerty, the lawyer in charge of Sharapova’s case, claimed the 29-year-old had been unfairly treated in part because of her fame and that he expected the ban to be reduced at Cas. He expects an appeal would be heard within the next month and a half.
“We always viewed this as a two-step process – ITF first then Cas for a final decision,” Haggerty said. “So while I am pleased with the ITF’s unanimous ruling about Maria’s lack of intent to violate the rules, I am disappointed that the ITF tribunal gave Maria an unfairly harsh suspension because she is such a famous athlete and they wanted to make an example out of her.
“I believe that at Cas, which is made up of an arbitrator selected by Maria, one selected by the ITF and a neutral arbitrator selected by CAS, Maria’s suspension will be reduced and she will return to tennis sooner.”
In its 33-page report, the tribunal said it believed Sharapova had taken the drug to enhance her performance but was satisfied she had not intended to cheat. As things stand, Sharapova is banned until January 26 2018, ruling her out of this summer’s Olympics and the next seven grand slam events. She would be a couple of months short of 31 by the time she returns, casting doubt as to whether she will play at the top level again.
Sharapova’s admission that she had taken the drug after 1 January, when it was added to the Wada code, meant she would be banned for at least a year, and, had she been shown to have deliberately violated anti-doping rules, she could have faced a maximum ban of four years.
The Russian’s decision to take control of the story from the outset, when she announced on 7 March that she had failed a drug test, was generally praised, especially by critics of the ITF for giving a number of players so-called “silent bans” while their cases were looked into. Speaking a few days ago in a speedily-arranged conference call, Haggerty said Sharapova stood by the decision to explain her case in public.
“Maria felt very strongly then and feels very strongly now, that telling the truth and being up front about it was the absolutely only way to handle the situation,” he said. “If she had to do this all over again, God forbid, she’d do it exactly the same way and come out and tell everybody what happened and how it happened, and stand by the truth.”
This article was written by Simon Cambers, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 8th June 2016 22.43 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010