Sponsors Flee Sharapova After Doping Admission

Nike has suspended the eight-year, $70-million contract it renewed in 2010 with tennis star Maria Sharapova after she announced yesterday that she had failed a doping test taken during the Australia Open in January, where she advanced to the quarterfinals. Porsche this morning said that is will “postpone planned activities” with the 28-year-old, Russian-born athlete. And Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer said it would not renew a deal with Sharapova that expired at the end of 2015. 

The banned substance in her system, meldonium, is a drug manufactured in Latvia that is not legally available in the United States. Sharapova said her family doctor had prescribed it for her a decade ago for several health issues. She admitted she had received an email on Dec. 22 announcing the ban but said she had not clicked through on the link.

“I did fail the test and take full responsibility for it,” Sharapova said at a noon press conference in Los Angeles that some observers thought she had called to announce her retirement due to a string of injuries. “I don’t want my career to end this way,” she asserted instead. 



“It is very important for you to understand that for 10 years this medicine was not on WADA’s banned list and I had been legally taking that medicine for the past 10 years,” Sharapova told the press. 

“And I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game. I know that many of you thought that I would be retiring today … but if I ever was going to announce my retirement, it would probably not be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with this fairly ugly carpet.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency added meldonium to its prohibited list effective Jan. 1 “because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance,” it says in a statement on its website. Used to treat heart disease, it reportedly aids oxygen flow.

The International Tennis Federation, said that Sharapova would be provisionally banned from March 12 “pending determination of the case.” 

“Sharapova was the world’s highest-paid female athlete last year for the 11th straight year with earnings of $29.7 million, including $23 million from endorsements and appearances,” reports Kurt Badenhausen for Forbes.

“Sharapova has earned $36.8 million in prize money during her career, which ranks second all-time, but she trails [Serena] Williams by more nearly $39 million. The real money has been off the court for the 6-foot-2 inch Russian with more than $200 million during her career from endorsements, appearances and royalties, by Forbes’ count,” Badenhausen continues.

“She's a one-woman marketing machine. There are lots of male stars in the world, but not many female stars,” British-based sponsorship consultant Nigel Currie tells the AP’s Pan Pylas and James Ellingworth.

“Currie said it's ‘unbelievable’ how such a mistake could have happened since Sharapova has such a big support network, adding that it's also ‘amazing’ how quickly sponsors react.”

“They are paranoid about their image, and the slightest risk to their image, they run to the hills,” Currie said.

She also has her own candy brand, Sugarpova, which was launched as a gummy candy. Last month, she announced that chocolate would be added to the line starting in May.

“I wanted to create an ‘experience’ with this product — a moment of indulgence, where time can stop and one can enjoy life’s little pleasures such as a bite of sensually rich chocolate,” Sharapova toldCandy Industry’s Bernie Pacyniak. “This product wraps up many of my favorites in life: food, a smile and a slight moment of indulgence.”

Tennis Hall of Fame player Jennifer Capriati, who retired in 2004 because of injuries, blasted Sharapova on Twitter, ESPN reports. “i didn't have the high priced team of drs that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up,” was one of her missives.

Martina Navratilova, on the other hand, tweeted: “Hold your horses everyone — about Maria — I don't have all the facts, I hope it's an honest mistake, stuff was legal as far as I know till 2015,” reports CNN’s Ravi Ubha.

James Burke tweeted that her holding the press conference was “classy.” And the coach who help her developed her talent, Nick Bollettieri, told Ubha: “I'm just praying that her record speaks loud and clear, what she's contributed She's handled everything today the way she's handled everything in life, like a lady.”

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