Sue Barker urges 'strong punishment' if Sharapova is found guilty of doping

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BBC presenter and former French Open tennis champion Sue Barker has called for Maria Sharapova to face a "strong punishment" and be banned from both the Olympics and Wimbledon if she is found guilty of drugs doping.

Barker, 59, said she does not think the Russian star is a cheat, but if allegations are proved then she should face a stringent penalty to send a powerful message to others in the sport.

Sharapova has been suspended since last month, when she admitted testing positive for the banned substance meldonium at January's Australian Open.

Barker called for the stiff punishment after receiving an OBE from the Queen at Windsor Castle for services to broadcasting and charity - an honour which she said she had been "nervous for days" about.

Speaking about Sharapova's shock announcement earlier this year, Barker said: "I cannot imagine that someone like Maria, with the entourage and the people around her, that they didn't think that what she was taking was a problem.

"I think tennis has got to really crack down and if she is found guilty then I hope the punishment is strong because it needs to be sent a message."

Asked if Sharapova should miss Wimbledon and the Olympics following her failed drugs test, Barker said: "Yes, (you) could do that, but that's if it is that level.

"But if it's a trace of this, or she didn't know - there's so much more of this story to come out."

Any such ban would be a "huge loss for the sport", and Barker said she did not think Sharapova was a cheat.

But she added: "It needs to be sorted out and if it is guilty, regardless of how good she is for the game, we do need to send a strong statement to the sport to make sure that this is a one-off and things don't happen, because everyone wants their sport to be clean."

 

Barker, who was accompanied to Windsor Castle by her husband, Lance Tankard, was honoured for her work as president of the charity Muscular Dystrophy UK and her 30-year broadcasting career.

But it is her tennis achievements she looks back on most proudly.

She said: "You're out there on your own - you win or lose by yourself.

"In television I am surrounded by such talented people that they can make anybody look good on screen, and in that way you are just part of a team."

Winning the French Open in 1976 was "great", but playing for Great Britain against America in the now-defunct Wightman Cup at the Royal Albert Hall in the 1970s and '80s was a highlight.

She said: "Representing your country is something even more special than just hearing 'Game to Ms Barker'. It was a huge sell-out event and those are my proudest memories.

"Even though it's so long ago, I can remember almost every point, every moment and every feeling, playing Chrissie Evert and Billie Jean King at the Albert Hall. Those are very special memories."

British tennis has seen success at the highest level in recent years, and Barker is tipping 21-year-old Kyle Edmund for big things.

She said: "He could be a real star of the future - he has got the big game, the big shots, hits the ball well, works on his fitness.

"He works alongside Andy Murray - if he takes notice of what Andy does and that rubs off on him, he could be a huge star."

One of the nation's best-loved sports presenters, Barker fronted the BBC's Sports Personality Of The Year programme for almost 20 years before stepping down in 2012, in part to give younger presenters a chance.

But she will still be watching avidly - and thinks new Masters winner Danny Willett may be a favourite with the public.

She said: "He was on A Question Of Sport at the beginning of March and he was just the loveliest guy.

"I think his whole story is sort of like a fairytale - playing in the sheep field, swinging his golf clubs, one of three or four brothers - he's just got so many lovely stories, I think the public will really take to him."

Barker also presented her last Olympics four years ago, and said she is looking forward to sitting back and watching events in Rio.

She said: "I just thought you can't end on a better Olympics than London and, to be honest, I just want to sit and watch it."

But fans of A Question Of Sport need not worry that Barker might leave the programme any time soon.

She said: "I've told them I'll never, ever tell them I want to retire because I love it. I said you're going to have to kick me out - just wheel the chair out and get rid of me - because going to do it is not a job, it's just an absolute joy."