Maria Sharapova 2-Year Doping Ban Reduced To 15 Months — Court Ruling Means Tennis Player Can Return By April 2017

In what must surely be a huge relief to the Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, a partial victory was handed to her today when the International Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced her two-year doping suspension from the sport down to 15 months.

Sharapova had been appealing the two-year doping ban and with Tuesday’s victory has said that she is already looking forward to returning to the world of professional Tennis by April 2017. In their ruling today the world’s top sports court stated that their ruling about the reduction is based on Maria Sharapova’s argued lack of knowledge that she had been taking a drug that had been banned. The drug in question was meldonium, a prescription heart medication which improves the blood flow, and was found in the Tennis player’s system months after it had been banned by anti-doping regulators.

A Facebook post that Sharapova had made said that her decision to appeal the two-year ban from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and anti-doping authorities was because it had been “unfairly harsh.” According to Reuters, now that nine months have been taken off what was initially handed down to the world’s former No. 1 player she says that she has learned a valuable lesson.

“In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back. Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court.”

The ban that the ITF gave to the 26-year-old had been backdated to begin on Jan. 26, 2016, following her positive test for meldonium in March. The heart medication had been newly banned by anti-doping regulators, and it was at the opening grand slam in Melbourne that her test was positive, but she admitted that she had been taking it at the Australian Open in January, as well.

Though it had been the consensus of the panel that Sharapova’s taking of the drug was not an intentional violation she still had to be punished, and today in their ruling, the International Court of Arbitration for Sport maintained that “she bore some degree of fault” as notification had been issued to the players. Nonetheless, the panel saw it fit to reduce the sentence.

“The degree of fault that can be imputed to the player for her failure to make sure that the substance contained in a product that she had been taking over a long period remained in compliance with the anti-doping rules.”

Sharapova disclosed the information to the public in March, just a few days after the lab notified her of the results and had since also called on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to implement better methods to alert players of banned substances. An independent tribunal had found that Sharapova had indeed been taking the supplement for over 10 years and Maria had said she had simply failed to read a 2015 email that announced the drug would be banned the next year. The Tennis player said that the email method was flawed and was what led to her unintentional violation.

As news of the reduction in her ban spread, many fans and friends took to social media to offer their congratulations and happiness. Those sponsors who stood by the player are also cheering in the wake of the decision, though some persons are stating that the victory for Sharapova is a loss for clean sports.

The player argued that other sports federations had notified their athletes in a much more efficient manner and cited Eastern Europe, a place where millions of persons are said to be on meldonium, or mildronate. NPR wrote that WADA banned the drug as of January 1, 2016, after noticing that entire teams were on meldonium, and this usually suggests that the drug is about enhancing performance and not for medical purposes. The chances that entire teams were suffering from the same condition did not stand up to scrutiny.

With this victory, Maria Sharapova anticipates a return to the court in time for the French Open in May and Wimbledon in July, 2017, and hopes to put this ordeal behind her.

“Now that this process is over, I hope the ITF and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other Federations did, so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through.”

[Featured Image by Damian Dovarganes/AP Images]