Three of tennis star Maria Sharapova’s top sponsors have cut ties with her after she admitted to failing a drug test for the 2016 Melbourne-based Australian Open. According to Sky News, TAG Heuer, Porsche, and now sportswear giant Nike are distancing themselves from the highest-paid sportswoman in the world.
Nike was the latest in a growing list of sponsors to cut ties with Sharapova after she admitted to taking meldonium for the past 10 years at a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday. Meldonium is a banned substance as it aids oxygen uptake and endurance and promotes blood flow. Several athletes across international sports have already been caught using the drug.
“We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova,” Nike said in a statement.
“We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation.”
TAG Heuer, the Swiss watch brand, will also not be renewing their sponsorship of Sharapova that expired at the end of 2015. Discussions had been underway to extend but they have ground to a halt amid the drug scandal.
“In view of the current situation, the Swiss watch brand has suspended negotiations, and has decided not to renew the contract with Ms Sharapova,” TAG Heuer said in a statement.
Porsche also cut ties with Sharapova after her drug use came to light and in a statement on Tuesday said that they have “chosen to postpone planned activities until further details are released and we can analyse the situation.”
The 28-year-old Russian star claims she was taking meldonium for numerous health issues including magnesium deficiency, regular bouts of influenza, early indications of diabetes, and “irregular” heart test results which started in 2006.
“I was first given the substance back in 2006. I had several health issues going on at the time,” she said. Sharapova didn’t specify whether she had used meldonium constantly since then, according to In Daily.
The drug’s manufacturer Grindeks was quick to respond to Sharapova’s announcement on Monday, and on Tuesday put out a statement saying the usual course of treatment is four to six weeks.
“Depending on the patient’s health condition, treatment course of meldonium preparations may vary from four to six weeks. Treatment course can be repeated twice or thrice a year,” the Latvian company said in an emailed statement.
The former world number one and 21-time grand-slam winner has taken responsibility for her actions but claims she did not know meldonium had been added to the banned list in September. The updated WADA anti-doping policy list was emailed to Sharapova in December, but the tennis star said she did not check to see what new substances had been added.
“I know that with this, I face consequences,” she said after several sponsors cut ties. “I don’t want to end my career this way, and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game.
“I take great responsibility and professionalism in my job, and I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let the sport down that I’ve been playing since the age of four, that I love so deeply.”
Fellow athletes had mixed responses to Sharapova’s drug doping test failure and took to social media to voice their opinions.
If this medication helped me to comeback again would everyone be alright with me taking it?— Jennifer Capriati (@JenCapriati) March 7, 2016
The medication is a tennis players dream to take. It should of been banned long ago but no red flags until other players popped up using— Jennifer Capriati (@JenCapriati) March 8, 2016
Other sponsors including American Express and Evian might follow suit and cut ties with Sharapova, pulling the plug on lucrative endorsements. Sharapova earned $29.7 million last year, of which $23 million came from sponsorship and endorsements. Her 2010 Nike deal alone was worth $70m over eight years.
Sharapova could face a lengthy ban from the International Tennis Federation, possibly preventing her from competing for Russia at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. According to the Wall Street Journal, the International Tennis Federation said in a statement that Sharapova would be provisionally suspended from competition on March 12, pending a full determination of her case.
[Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP]