If Russian sport was on the ropes following its doping allegations in the world of Athletics the news that its pin-up girl in the world of Tennis, Maria Sharapova, has failed a drug test while participating at the Australian Open, will be another body blow.
Sharapova, 28, tested positive for meldonium, a substance she has been taking since 2006 for health issues. “I did fail the test and take full responsibility for it,” said Sharapova, “For the past 10 years I have been given a medicine called mildronate by my family doctor and a few days ago after I received a letter from the ITF (International Tennis Federation) I found out it also has another name of meldonium, which I did not know.”
The five-time Grand Slam champion is provisionally suspended from 12 March pending further action. Her major sponsor Nike has announced that it was putting its relationship with the player on hold until the investigation is complete. Which is sensible.
It is believed that Sharapova may only suffer a brief suspension as WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) only placed meldonium on its monitoring programme in 2015, before adding it to the banned list at the start of 2016. The reason given was “because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance”.
Unfortunately for Sharapova when they added this to the ban list on 1 January of this year, she did not pick it up.
The big question though is where does this leave Russian sport? They may well argue that Sharapova is based in the USA so this is a problem for the United States doping program, but the world views it very much as a Russian problem.
Just last month it was revealed that the former executive director of the Russian anti-doping agency planned to write a book on the use of drugs in sport in his country, but shortly after he revealed this before his sudden death on February 14th. A death that was described as being caused by a “massive heart attack” according to the Russian anti doping agency RUSADA.
It comes as no surprise that the UK Sunday Times journalist David Walsh, who is renowned for his covering of Lance Armstrong’s doping violations, has claimed that Nikita Kamaev wrote to him in November 2015 offering to reveal information on doping over the last three decades, ever since, he claimed, he had started working in a secret lab.
Kamaev was reported to have contacted the British paper after WADA accused RUSADA of helping cover up doping by Russian athletes as part of a systematic state-sponsored regime.
He claimed he had documents from the Russian sports ministry and the International Olympic Committee, as well as other documents from “confidential sources.”
Following Kamaev’s death Walsh declared that he had not been keen on writing a book with the Russian as his English was poor and he had an issue with his former role overseeing a drug testing agency when the Russian government managed to affect influence.
There are of course many who feel that Kamaev was exploited by the West, in particular the USA to tarnish Russia’s reputation. The Russians claim that prior to his death Kamaev had abandoned the project because an American publisher had demanded too much influence over its contents.
It is hard to know who or what to believe, especially when one considers that another former senior RUSADA official Vycheslav Sinev died eleven days before Kamaev. However it has been said that Sinev, 56 years of age, “had suffered long term health problems,” according to a RUSADA spokesperson.
It would appear that Sharapova made a genuine mistake but her error has once more thrust Russia under the microscope. It has also made Tennis a headline sport for the second time in two months for all the wrong reasons.
With so much money on the line in most sports is it any wonder that athletes and confederations and associations will do whatever it takes to win? Their livelihoods depend on success, as do their academies and programs. Just as some amateur associations fudge their participation figures to obtain more funding, professional organisations will do whatever it takes to assure their programs and athletes gain success and continued funding.
It is a vicious cycle and one wonders where it will all end.
Will sport return to semi-professional times in the future or have we gone too far past that? What is the solution to combat this win at literally all costs?
The situation is appropriately best summed up by Leo Tolstoy who is back at centre stage following the television adaptation of ‘War and Peace,’ “All we can know is that we know nothing. And that’s the height of human wisdom.” We are unlikely to ever know the full story, as many will take it with them to the grave and those who do talk are unlikely to be aware of how far reaching it all goes.