The key evidence in Sharapova doping case


Maria Sharapova and her management each come in for criticism in the full findings from the independent tribunal that handed down a two-year ban to the Grand Slam champion on Wednesday.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium during the Australian Open, just a few weeks after the substance had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list - a move the former world number one claimed to be unaware of due to a failure on the International Tennis Federation's (ITF) part to make it clear.

While the tribunal ruled that Sharapova's contravention of anti-doping rules was not intentional, it also criticised the Russian's actions in failing to disclose her continued use of meldonium, which was originally prescribed to her by a doctor in 2005.

Here we look at the key evidence that could keep Sharapova out of major action until the 2018 French Open, pending an appeal.



Sharapova was prescribed Mildronate - a trade name for meldonium - in 2005 by Dr Anatoly Skalny, as part of a "detailed medicinal and nutritional regime" to combat "frequent cold-related illnesses, tonsil issues and upper abdomen pain".

However, the tribunal heard that Dr Skalny's dosage notes a year later included references to taking Mildronate "before training or competition" as well as the instruction: "During games of special importance, you can increase your Mildronate dose to 3-4 pills (1 hr before the match)."

The tribunal ruled: "There is no basis for criticising the decision of the player, then aged 18, and her father to accept and act upon the clinical judgment of a reputable expert in the field of mineral imbalances. The treatment recommended must be viewed as a whole and on that basis Mildronate did not stand out as an exceptional substance in the overall regime."



By the end of 2012, with Dr Skalny's list of recommended substances having expanded, Sharapova opted to "follow a different approach to her nutritional intake. She found the taking of lots of pills overwhelming and she thought there was a better way to handle her health." 

However, it was found that Sharapova made her own decision to continue to take three substances, including Mildronate, "without the benefit of any medical advice, either from Dr Skalny or any other medical practitioner".

Sharapova was dismissive of her need to list Mildronate on subsequent doping control forms, as she claimed not to take it on a daily basis.

"I did not feel it was a huge responsibility of mine to write all those medications down," she said. "As I said before, in hindsight, this is a mistake of mine. I did not feel it was a responsibility to have to write down every single match drink I was taking, gel, vitamin that I was taking, even if I took it once during the last seven days. I did not think it was of high importance."

The tribunal ruled this explanation "untenable", adding: "The wording of the doping control form was clear and could not reasonably be misunderstood. She must have known that taking a medication before a match, particularly one not currently prescribed by a doctor, was of considerable significance.  This was a deliberate decision, not a mistake."

Addressing Sharapova's continued use of Mildronate before matches, particularly at this year's Australian Open, the tribunal added: "If she had believed that there was a continuing medical need to use Mildronate then she would have consulted a medical practitioner. The manner of its use, on match days and when undertaking intensive training, is only consistent with an intention to boost her energy levels. It may be that she genuinely believed that Mildronate had some general beneficial effect on her health but the manner in which the medication was taken, its concealment from the anti-doping authorities, her failure to disclose it even to her own team, and the lack of any medical justification must inevitably lead to the conclusion that she took Mildronate for the purpose of enhancing her performance."



Perhaps some of the most bizarre testimony came from Eisenbud, Sharapova's manager at IMG.

Eisenbud's early testimony was found to have "raised as many questions as it answered", though he did claim he had been responsible for checking WADA's prohibited list - key to Sharapova's argument of ignorance.

However, Eisenbud's claim that separating from his wife prevented him from doing so late last year drew particular scorn.

He told the tribunal: "My system ... in November of every year I would go on vacation in the Caribbean, after the championships. I would have my assistant print out the most updated doping prohibited list, along with the new proposed WTA and ATP rules, the calendar for next year. I would make a file. I would go on vacation and sit at the pool, with all the substances that my players were taking, and then sit there and just cross-check, to make sure that everybody, what they were doing, was not prohibited. In 2015 I didn't go on vacation for obvious reasons."

The tribunal was less than impressed, stating: "The idea that a professional manager, entrusted by IMG with the management of one of its leading global sporting stars, would so casually and ineptly have checked whether his player was complying with the anti-doping programme, a matter critical to the player's professional career and her commercial success, is unbelievable. The tribunal rejects Mr. Eisenbud's evidence."



In its concluding statement, the tribunal suggested Sharapova had nobody to blame but herself for her ban.

"The contravention of the anti-doping rules was not intentional as Ms Sharapova did not appreciate that Mildronate contained a substance prohibited from 1 January 2016.

"However, she does bear sole responsibility for the contravention, and very significant fault, in failing to take any steps to check whether the continued use of this medicine was permissible.

"If she had not concealed her use of Mildronate from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the contravention would have been avoided.

"She is the sole author of her own misfortune."