GRAPHIC BY YING YANG
By JUSTIN YEH
How is it that, even after using banned drugs, some athletes can still find a way to avoid harsh punishment?
Back in June 2016, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) banned Russian professional tennis player Maria Sharapova from competitive tennis for two years after her use of meldonium, a heart medication associated with performance-enhancing benefits. Sharapova appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), claiming that she was not trying to gain an unfair advantage; she simply forgot to check if her medication was on the banned list. Her original sentence of four years was cut down to two years and eventually trimmed down to fifteen months in Oct. 2016. She was then awarded a wildcard to the 2017 United States (U.S.) Open Tennis Championships in April.
Although Sharapova served her fifteen-month sentence, she should not have been allowed back into the tournament because of her careless drug usage.
First of all, despite what Sharapova claims, she was fully aware that her medication had the potential to strengthen her athletic performance. Emails from as early as 2004 between Sharapova and her doctor, Anatoly Skalny, reveal that Skalny had advised Sharapova to increase her dosage of meldonium to 3-4 pills one hour before significant games, as opposed to her usual dosage of 1-2 pills. This conversation implies that both Sharapova and Skalny were aware of the drug’s performance-enhancing abilities. Being the prominent and influential organization that it is, the CAS should have taken this evidence more seriously before deciding to reduce Sharapova’s suspension. After all, she intentionally violated the anti-doping rules set forth by the ITF and thus should have to serve the required suspension.
Furthermore, in the past, other athletes who tested positive for banned substances were strictly punished by the ITF. For instance, in 2015, Wayne Odesnik pleaded guilty to a second offence of taking steroids and was banned for fifteen years. Odesnik is still serving his sentence today and has not received special treatment from the United States Tennis Association (USTA). Therefore, Sharapova should also be held accountable for the requisite four-year suspension following an intentional violation of the anti-doping rules.
Even after causing all this controversy, Sharapova still lost her admission into the women’s quarterfinals in the U.S. Open after losing to Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia on Sep. 3., marking the end of her return to the 2017 Grand Slam. Although she may be out of the tournament, Sharapova’s mere reappearance in competitive tennis sparked outrage among both tennis fans and competitors.
For example, Canadian professional tennis player Eugenie Bouchard was once inspired by Sharapova; fast forward a few years, and this is no longer the case. According to Bouchard, Sharapova is a cheater and should not be allowed to play tennis again. Sharapova’s actions are all the more questionable when considering the many more young fans she may be influencing.
Therefore, athletes must take sole responsibility for the substances that are in their bodies, because drug-users can gain an unfair advantage over their fellow competitors. Sharapova’s admission into the U.S. Open only teaches young fans that they can cheat without facing major consequences. Hopefully, tennis fans and athletes alike can learn from Sharapova’s mistake and become more cautious before making life-changing decisions.