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Maria Sharapova and the Meldonium doping scandal

Maria SharapovaWho doesn’t admire Maria Sharapova? All the girls want to be her and all the boys want to be, well, with her.

A fine tennis player indeed. A fine athlete and yet it turns out that all these years she was struggling with a severe heart condition necessitating the use of an unapproved drug that just happens to increase oxygen uptake and stamina. Not that Ms Sharapova was taking it for those reasons of course because that would be cheating. That would be like using EPO. That would turn Maria Sharapova into as big a cheat as Lance Armstrong, and everyone knows that tennis is far cleaner than cycling.

Still, who could have guessed that Maria Sharapova suffered from chronic heart failure requiring constant use of the drug Meldonium for the last decade?

What an achievement for a person with such a serious illness to win the Australian Open, the French Open (twice) and the US Open in the last ten years. It makes all our little petty concerns seem so small compared to the obstacles Sharapova overcame on her way to greatness, battling heart failure to become one of the legendary figures of modern tennis.

The dedication of this great champion was so intense that she didn’t even stick with the recommendations of the drug’s manufacturers that it should be used for no more than four to six weeks at a time, and no more than two or three times in a year. But perhaps that was because she was using it in America where no guidance exists, since the drug is not licensed for use there. And how brave of her personal physician to prescribe the unlicensed drug, risking disbarment and perhaps worse in the intolerant world of US federal drug regulation, though of course, since it can be bought over the counter in Latvia where it’s produced, it is possible that adoring fans simply purchased it and posted it to their idol.

Tennis, it’s fair to say, is a clean sport. There’s no need for all that drug-testing that happens in other codes, and while it’s true that the elite male tennis stars can play five gruelling sets lasting an entire day and yet rebound within hours to play another equally-hard match without obvious ill effects, that’s due to their extreme fitness. Like golfers, tennis players simply do not cheat.

I suppose we can blame Sharapova’s heart condition for her failure to read the email from WADA last September warning her that Meldonium was now included in their official list of banned drugs. It’s hard to concentrate when you might drop dead of an ischaemic attack at any second, staved off only by the life-saving medication your doctor has risked his licence to prescribe.

But what a pity she didn’t open that email and read what it said. What a shame Maria Sharapova, famous for her attention to detail, simply didn’t notice that the drug she had been using for the previous decade was now banned, and continued to take it. Naturally, that would have nothing to do with the fact that testing of professional tennis players is almost unheard-of.

She just didn’t notice the email and that’s why Maria Sharapova is now out of tennis.

Petty bureaucracy.