Dutch racket manufacturers Head have caused further controversy in the ongoing saga surrounding Maria Sharapova testing positive for meldonium after they released a statement questioning why the substance was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list.
The company sparked outrage when they leapt to the defence of the Russian, a five-time Grand Slam champion, following her shock announcement that she had failed a drugs test at the Australian Open in January.
Sportswear giants Nike, car company Porsche and watchmaker Tag Heuer have all severed or are reviewing their sponsorship ties with Sharapova as a result of her failed test for the heart-attack drug, which was added to WADA’s list of banned substances on January 1.
But HEAD, who also provide the rackets for other top tennis stars, including British world number two Andy Murray, have opted to extend their deal with the 28-year-old Russian despite her admission that she had been taking meldonium for the past 10 years.
A statement released yesterday claimed that “Maria had made a mistake but she has earned the benefit of the doubt.”
Their stance has provoked widespread criticism in sport, with even Murray describing their support as “strange” and that he “wouldn’t have responded like that”.
The two-time Grand Slam winner also believes Sharapova deserves a suspension and said she must accept any punishment she is given.
Reformed cheat David Millar, the former British cyclist who served a two-year ban in 2004 before becoming a passionate anti-doping campaigner, said Head ere “sending the worst possible message” and accused them of being “highly cynical” and “fairly irresponsible” during a Tackling Doping in Sport Conference in London yesterday.
Despite the backlash, Head have today reaffirmed their support for Sharapova, who is expected to appear before the International Tennis Federation’s doping panel at a meeting in London on March 23 and is facing up to a four-year ban, declaring they were “proud” to stand behind the Russian.
“On this basis we conclude that although it is beyond doubt that she tested positive for the use of a WADA banned substance, the circumstantial evidence is equally beyond doubt that the continued use of meldonium after Jan 1st, 2016 in the dosages she had been recommended, which were significantly short of performance enhancing levels, was a manifest error by Maria,” a statement read.
“In the absence of any evidence of any intent by Maria of enhancing her performance or trying to gain an unfair advantage through the use of mildronate, we further conclude this falls into the category of ‘honest’ mistakes.
“Furthermore, we question WADA’s decision to add meldonium to its banned substances list in the manner it did; we believe the correct action by WADA would have been to impose a dosage limitation only.
“In the circumstances we would encourage WADA to release scientific studies which validates their claim that meldonium should be a banned substance.”
Head’’s suggestion to WADA was refuted by President Sir Craig Reedie, who responded: “Perhaps people should recall an exercise in scientific research, followed by a year of monitoring before the List Committee decided to place the product on the Prohibited List.”
- By Liam Morgan
- Republished with permission insidethegames.biz