The world of women’s tennis is reacting this week to the news that one of the sport’s biggest stars, 28-year-old Maria Sharapova, failed a drug test at this year’s Australian Open.
Sharapova, a 5-time major champion, admitted to testing positive for meldonium during a press conference in Los Angeles on Monday. Now, the woman currently ranked 7th in the world must wait and see what her punishment will be.
Here are 5 fast facts we’ve learned so far about Sharapova’s failed drug test and the ensuing fallout.
Meldonium is a drug used to treat heart disease
Meldonium, also known as mildronate, is a heart medication used to fight heart disease. Meldonium works by increasing blood flow, according to the drug’s Latvian manufacturer. It is most commonly sold in Russia and former Soviet countries. Sharapova is from Russia. Meldonium is also available for sale online but it is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Sharapova has taken meldonium for years
Sharapova said at her press conference on Monday that she was first prescribed meldonium by her doctor in 2006 to treat a variety of health issues, including an irregular EKG heart test and a family history of diabetes. Sharapova said she has repeatedly used the drug as prescribed over the course of the last 10 years.
The problem, according to Sharapova, is that meldonium was a legal substance when she started taking it and was only added to the banned list by the World Anti-Doping Agency on January 1, 2016. Sharapova maintains that she was not aware of the drug’s change in status until it was too late.
Meldonium was given to Soviet troops in the 1980s to increase endurance
The reason meldonium was added to the list of banned drugs is because there is evidence that some athletes have used the drug to increase their endurance. The Telegraph reports that two Ukranian biathletes and Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov have also tested positive since the drug was made illegal in January.
And it’s not just athletes who have used the drug. The Associated Press reported after Sharapova’s announcement that meldonium was regularly given to Soviet troops in the 1980s to boost their stamina while fighting in Afghanistan.
Sharapova’s sponsors are dropping like flies
Sharapova is one of the most marketable female sports stars in the world today but the drug scandal is costing her some of her endorsement deals.
Nike, Porsche and watchmaker TAG Heuer all released statements cutting ties with Sharapova while the investigation continues.
Forbes estimated that an 8-year contract extension that Sharapova signed with Nike in 2010 could be worth as much as $70 million.
“We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova,” Nike said in a statement Monday afternoon. “We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation.”
Sharapova could be banned from tennis for one year or longer
It’s been announced that Sharapova will be provisionally suspended from March 12 while the International Tennis Federation investigates the case. Per ITF rules, Sharapova could be banned for up to four years if it is found she took meldonium intentionally to improve performance. If it’s deemed unintentional, the penalty could be up to two years.
But The Telegraph reports that World Anti-Doping Agency President Craig Reedie said recently that any athlete found guilty of using meldonium would normally face a one-year suspension.
Sharapova does have the option to appeal any suspension once it is handed down and there are examples out there of other tennis players who have had their suspension reduced on appeal.