Two major sponsors cut ties with Maria Sharapova after the five-time Grand Slam champion admitted in a press conference that she failed a drug test conducted at the Australian Open in January, the Guardian reports.
Nike suspended its sponsorship with Sharapova, saying in a statement that it was “saddened and surprised” by the news. Shortly after the giant shoe corporation severed ties with Maria, Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer followed suit, declaring that it will not renew its deal with the 28-year-old Russian tennis player.
“We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues,” said Nike in an official statement. “We will continue to monitor the situation.”
Maria Sharapova’s business relationship with Nike goes way back to when she was just 11 years old. In 2010, Maria signed a new eight-year contract with the popular shoe brand for $70 million and a cut on sales of her branded clothes.
Sharapova’s contract with Tag Heuer ended late last year. There had been talks for a renewal in 2016, but after Maria announced her failed drug test, the Swiss brand decided that it will not renew the contract.
According to Forbes, Maria Sharapova was the world’s top-earning female athlete in 2015 after earning $30 million from winnings and endorsements. Sharapova’s top sponsors for that year include Nike, Evian, Tag Heuer, and Porsche. In 2014, Maria was named Porsche’s first female ambassador.
During her announcement, the former world number one tennis player admitted failing a drug test for the recently-banned substance Meldonium. Meldonium was added to the banned list on January 1. In her speech, Miss Sharapova said that she’s been taking the drug since 2006 as per her doctor’s advice.
“For the past 10 years I have been taking a medicine called mildronate by my doctor, my family doctor, and a few days ago after I received the letter from the ITF [International Tennis Federation] I found out it also has another name of Meldonium, which I did not know.
“It is very important for you to understand that for 10 years this medicine was not on WADA’s [World Anti-Doping Agency] banned list and I had been legally taking that medicine for the past 10 years.
“But on [Jan. 1] the rules had changed and Meldonium became a prohibited substance, which I had not known.”
Maria later added that her doctor recommended that she take the medication to treat her irregular EKGs and magnesium deficiency. The substance can also prevent diabetes, an illness that runs in her family, she added.
Maria Sharapova admitted that on December 22, she received an email from WADA containing the updated list of banned substances. In her statement, Maria admitted that she didn’t click on the link, which she now regrets.
“I received an email on December 22 from WADA about the changes happening to the banned list and you can see prohibited items, and I didn’t click that link,” explained Maria. “I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down and I let the sport down. I have been playing since the age of four a sport that I love so deeply.”
Maria Sharapova’s team teased a “major announcement” before Monday, causing people to speculate that she is potentially retiring from the sport. As everybody now knows, that couldn’t be further from the truth, and Maria herself said during her announcement that she’d like nothing more than to continue her tennis career.
“I don’t want to end my career this way and really hope that I’ll be given another chance,” Sharapova said.
[Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP]