Nike suspends Sharapova contract over failed drug test, despite past backing for offenders

Maria Sharapova © Jeremy Lee
The shocks are still reverberating after the explosive news that Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova failed a drug test at the Australian Open. The story has developed today with sponsors Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche all distancing themselves from contracts with the player.

The 28-year-old is one of the most prominent sportswomen in the world and will be suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) from March 12.

Sharapova revealed the failed test in a press conference in Los Angeles and admitted remorse at what has happened.

The Florida resident tested positive for the drug meldonium, which was only added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) prohibited substances list on January 1.

Meldonium is used to treat diabetes and low magnesium, and the five-time Grand Slam champion said she had been taking it for health issues.

It is also a countermeasure to ischaemia, which is a lack of blood flow to parts of the body.

Russian figure skater Ekaterina Bobrova also confessed to testing positive to the drug this week.

Sharapova stated that she should have been more stringent when accounting for what medical help she sought.

"For the past 10 years I have been given a medicine called mildronate by my family doctor and a few days ago after I received a letter from the ITF I found out it also has another name of meldonium, which I did not know,” she said.

Sharapova failed drug test, says it 'was huge mistake'

At a press conference in Los Angeles, Maria Sharapova admitted, she had been taking the substance called Mildronate (Meldonium) for the past 10 years, and that it only became illegal on 1 January 2016. ‘I don’t want to end my career this way. And I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game. I made a huge mistake, I let my fans down, I let the sport down.’ Learn more here: http://on.rt.com/76d9

Posted by RT Play on Tuesday, March 8, 2016

With the case to be investigated further, major sponsor Nike has suspended its support for the star.

“We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova,” an official statement from the sportswear giants reads.

"We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues.”

Nike's move is understandable, but it also puts into question their motives for dropping and backing athletes. Just last year, Nike offered twice-banned American sprinter Justin Gatlin a new contract, despite Gatlin showing no remorse for his past actions.

From a business point of view it makes little sense too - Gatlin isn't the big name Sharapova is, and as the world's highest-earning female athlete she made $24 million in endorsements in 2014 and $23 million in 2015.

The only logic behind it could be the PR reaction to Sharapova's announcement and Nike doing their best to show themselves as being strictly anti-drugs in light of last year's revelations by WADA - however given their deliberate lack of action over less prominent stars, the only thing that seems to provoke Nike (and other sponsors) into action is the amount of media coverage a drug violation gets.

Nike isn't the only company to suspend its contract with Sharapova. Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer and luxury car brand Porsche are also putting promotions on hold with the tennis player.

Although the Russian tennis star has not covered herself in glory with the drug scandal, the reasoning behind the use of meldonium can be understood to some degree.

If Sharapova’s case adds up, there is a chance that leniency could be applied by the authorities, given that there was little potential malice in her actions and her ban could be put down to neglect more than anything.

The shocking nature of the failed test sullies Sharapova’s squeaky clean reputation, but is not the first time that athletes have been caught up in drugs scandals.

READ MORE: Tennis star Sharapova to be ‘provisionally suspended’ after failing drug test

Lance Armstrong was revered as a legend in his sport after winning seven consecutive Tour de France titles - and overcame cancer to inspire people all over the world.

However, the American cyclist was stripped of his medals after being embroiled in a doping scandal and his idol status soon slipped.

LaShawn Merritt was seen as one of athletics’ rising stars in his youth, becoming an Olympic and world champion with some sublime performances on the track.

His image was tarnished in October 2010 though, as the Virginia-born runner was banned for 21 months for failing a drug test.

Retired UFC fighter Tim Sylvia blighted his stellar fight career by testing positive for Stanozolol - a drug he admitted using to improve his physique.

The Maine-born heavyweight was hit with a six-month suspension and gave up his championship.

Peyton Manning has recently retired from the NFL but was caught up in a drug abuse scandal before he called it a day.

The legendary quarterback was accused of taking performance-enhancing drugs to aid recovery, with the former Denver Broncos player having a whiter-than-white image before this.

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