Head stands firm in support of Sharapova, criticises WADA


Sportswear company Head has doubled down on its support of Maria Sharapova and criticised the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for banning meldonium - the substance the former world number one tested positive for at the Australian Open.

Sharapova revealed her failed drugs test at a news conference at the beginning of this week, while stating she had been prescribed meldonium - added to WADA's list of prohibited substances at the start of 2016 - for a decade in order to deal with health issues.

While several sponsors have moved to suspend relationships with the Russian in the wake of her shock revelation, Head offered fulsome support for Sharapova in a statement on Thursday - citing its belief the player was guilty of an honest mistake.

Chairman and CEO Johan Eliasch has now defended the company's decision to stick by Sharapova, and questioned the performance-enhancing effects of meldonium.

Speaking on CNN, Eliasch said: "This is probably not a performance-enhancing drug at all and, if it is, it is at significantly higher dosages than what somebody would be prescribed. So therefore I think the World Anti-Doping Agency, they need to take blame, because the correct action would have been to impose a dosage limitation, not to ban the substance.

"That's not fair to the athlete because the athlete has been suffering for a medical condition for a very long period of time, in fact for 10 years she has been taking this substance. She has tested positive for the substance for that 10-year period, so everybody has known that she was taking it. If there should have been a ban on it, which I think is highly questionable because there is no clinical testing supporting that it is a performance-enhancer, at least she should have been directly notified.

"It's correct for us as a brand to stand behind Maria, because this is clearly an honest mistake - nothing other than that. And I think equally it has been wrong by the World Anti-Doping Agency to impose the ban that they have done on this substance. As I said before, it should have been a dosage limitation at most.

"I think the notion of sanctions [against Sharapova] is also wrong because of the circumstances. Yes, it was a mistake but what this would compare to in civil life would be community service. If I were to commute a sentence for this mistake, it would be to teach kids tennis for three months, but not to ban her from playing competitive tennis."

In a statement on Head's official website, Eliasch added: "In the circumstances we would encourage WADA to release scientific studies which validates their claim that meldonium should be a banned substance."

Sharapova's provisional suspension from tennis, as a result of her positive test, comes into effect on Saturday.