ITF hits back at Sharapova over tribunal claims


Maria Sharapova's claims that the International Tennis Federation (ITF) tried to enforce a lengthier ban for her doping rule violation have been rejected by the governing body.

The Russian's suspension for using the banned substance meldonium was on Tuesday reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from two years to 15 months, but the former world number one said the ITF had pushed for a four-year sanction.

In addition to rejecting that suggestion, the ITF dismissed the notion that it could have done more to inform the five-time grand slam champion and other eastern European athletes about meldonium's inclusion on the banned list.

"The ITF did not try to ban Ms Sharapova for four years, as has been suggested," read a statement. "The ITF stated clearly that it was the responsibility of the Independent Tribunal - and subsequently the CAS Panel - to determine what the appropriate sanction should be.

"Ms Sharapova has stated that the Independent Tribunal was 'not neutral'. Ms Sharapova's legal team was given the opportunity to object to the appointment of any member of that Tribunal in advance of the hearing and they agreed in writing that they had no such objection.

"It has also been suggested that the ITF should have given specific notice to eastern European athletes relating to the change in status of meldonium, because it was in common use by those athletes, and that this was known by the ITF prior to 2016. 

"This is not true. In fact, it was accepted by Ms Sharapova in the hearing before CAS that the ITF did not know before 2016 about the extent to which meldonium was used by athletes from any region, or that Ms Sharapova herself was using meldonium.

"In addition to Ms Sharapova's failure to declare her use of meldonium on any of her doping control forms, the WADA monitoring program is conducted anonymously, so even WADA itself does not know the names of athletes using the substances being monitored.

"Furthermore, WADA does not inform any anti-doping organisation about the prevalence of such use until it publishes the results of the monitoring program, which for the 2015 monitoring program was in May 2016."

Thursday's statement was prompted by remarks from Sharapova on the Charlie Rose Show, in which the former world number one addressed the question of whether she felt she was being made an example of.

"I never wanted to believe that, but I am starting to think that," said the 29-year-old.

"I got a 24-month suspension, but they wanted four years for me. The ITF wanted to ban me for four years.

"I went through the ITF arbitration which was chosen by the ITF. I'm in a hearing knowing that the people I am speaking to were chosen by the people I am in a fight with. That's not neutral.

"CAS is neutral and this is what CAS awarded."

Sharapova's reduced ban expires in April 2017.