"The tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate anti-doping rules, I cannot accept it"
Tennis pro Maria Sharapova, was given a two year suspension from professional Tennis for blood doping, the star announced on her Facebook page. "Today with their decision of a two year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional," she said.
Her lawyer, John Haggerty, said Sharapova took the substance after the date of the Australian Open. Wednesday's ruling said Sharapova did not intend to cheat, but bore "sole responsibility" and "very significant fault" for the positive test.
Sharapova said then she was not aware that the World Anti-Doping Agency had barred athletes from using meldonium, also known as mildronate, as of Jan. 1.
In addition to testing positive at the Australian Open, she also failed a test for meldonium in an out-of-competition control in Moscow on Feb. 2, the ITF said.
Sharapova vowed Wednesday to appeal the ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
In March 2016, Sharapova revealed she had failed a drug test at the 2016 Australian Open, admitting to testing positive for meldonium, a substance banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in January 2016. On June 8, 2016, she was suspended from playing tennis for two years by the International Tennis Federation.
A United States resident since 1994, Sharapova competed on the WTA tour since 2001. She has been ranked world No. 1 in singles by the WTA five different times, for a total of 21 weeks. She is one of ten women, and the only Russian, to hold the career Grand Slam. She is also an Olympic medalist, having earned silver for Russia in women's singles at the 2012 summer Olympics in London.
Despite an injury-prone career, Sharapova has achieved a rare level of longevity in women's tennis. She has garnered at least one singles title a year from 2003 until 2015, a record exceeded only by Steffi Graf, Martina Navratilova, and Chris Evert. Several tennis pundits and former players have called Sharapova one of tennis's best competitors, with John McEnroe calling her one of the best the sport has ever seen.
Her statement is below:
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.
P.S. My lawyer prepared a short summary of how the ITF process works so I thought I would pass it along to my fans so you too can be aware of what the ITF rules call for