An honest mistake? Sharapova explains why she tested positive for meldonium

by: Kamakshi Tandon | March 07, 2016

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"It's very important for you to understand that for 10 years, this medicine was not on WADA's banned list." (AP)

Maria Sharapova, who announced on Monday that she tested positive for a banned substance at the Australian Open, says she was unaware of changes in anti-doping rules.

She did say, however, that she would take "full responsibility" for her anti-doping violation. 

Sharapova said she tested positive for meldonium, a drug for blood flow and heart problems that became prohibited at the beginning of this year. The Russian said it’s something she’s been "taking legally" since 2006 for health reasons.

She revealed that she received notification a few days ago from the International Tennis Federation that the substance was found in her system at the Australian Open. 

"I have been given a medicine called mildronate by my doctor, my family doctor,” she said at her press conference. “And a few days ago, after I received the letter, I found out that it also has another name of meldonium, which I did not know. It's very important for you to understand that for 10 years, this medicine was not on WADA's banned list, and I had been legally taking the medicine.

"I was getting sick very often, and I had a deficiency in magnesium and a family history of diabetes, and there were signs of diabetes. That is one of the medications, along with others, that I received."

Despite her defense, she took full blame.

"I take full responsibility for it,” she said. "I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let my sport down. I have been playing since the age of four, and I love [tennis] so deeply."

The ITF released a statement to the Associated Press that said Sharapova was notified on March 2, and would be provisionally suspended on March 12, pending further investigation that will presumably include an appeal from Sharapova for a reduced sanction.

The World Anti-Doping Agency announced six months ago that the drug would become banned because of "evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.” 

Sharapova also said she had been notified by WADA of planned changes, but had not seen that the drug was no longer allowed. It was previously a "monitored'' substance, meaning that its presence was noted by WADA, but not prohibited.

"I failed the test and take full responsibility for that," she said. "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 on that link."

The five-time Grand Slam champion did not know what her sanctions would be. The anti-doping program calls for a four-year ban, which can be reduced if a player shows no substantial fault or negligence.

She said she is not retiring and wants to play again.

"I know that with this I face consequences, and I don't want to end my career this way,” she said. “I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game.”

Sharapova also kept her sense of humor in a difficult moment,

"I know many of you thought I was retiring,” she said. “But if I was ever going to announce my retirement, it would probably not be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with this fairly ugly carpet."

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