| March 18, 2018

Column: One More Chance

June 25, 2017

Maria Sharapova is a liar.

This is a fact. For years, she took performance enhancing drugs, claimed it was for a medical need, took it after it was banned and covered the drug use from her doctors. Sharapova is a cheater and a liar.

Sharapova was taking meldonium, a drug made in Latvia and distributed to other Baltic states. It is not approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration and unauthorized in Europe. The drug treats lack of blood flow to parts of the body, especially for those with angina, heart failure or Ischemia. Since it improves blood flow, it helps athletes perform better.

Now, after her 15-month suspension, Sharapova is back. After leaving tennis as No. 26 in the world, she now rests at No. 211.

Sharapova has seen injuries and declining abilities since her last Grand Slam victory in the 2014 French Open. The suspension was devastating. She may never be able to recover her once-lucrative career.

Sharapova has been punished. She served her suspension. She now deserves a chance to come back. I’m not saying she should be welcomed back wholeheartedly and warmly — but she deserves a chance to play again.

As a kid, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about tennis. It was usually something my mom made us play with her on early Saturday mornings, or a painful gym activity in junior high. Despite this, I knew who Sharapova was.

When she came out, held a press conference and announced her positive test results, I was impressed. She could have lied some more, or simply disappeared from the sport and public eye. It takes guts to stand up and do what she did. I’m still in awe of her for this.

The dual citizen of Russia and America is a United Nations Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador and has used her platform to help the Chernobyl Recovery and Development Programme.

Because of this, I consider her a huge role model for women in and out of the world of sports. And perhaps she won’t ever be able to recover, but let’s at least give her the space to attempt a comeback. Some people disagree.

French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli refused to grant a wild-card berth to Sharapova for the French Open.

“I’m very sorry for Maria, very sorry for her fans,” he said. “They might be very disappointed — she might be very disappointed … This suspension is over and she can take her path toward new success. But while there can be a wild card for return from injury, there can’t be a wild card for return from doping.”

While it is in his discretion to grant wild-cards, I think he was wrong. The head of the Women’s Tennis Association concurs.
“There are no grounds for any member of the (tennis anti-doping program) to penalize any player beyond the sanctions set forth in the final decision resolving these matters,” Simon said to the Associated Press.

Giudicelli missed a great opportunity in not allowing Sharapova to compete. Sharapova could have used her opening news conference to speak about the mistakes she has made and how doping has negatively impacted her life. After all, there’s nothing sports fans love more than a comeback after adversity. Her appearance could have sparked more publicity and interest as well, which could have added to the French Open’s profit.

Not to mention, Giudicelli has no problem giving a wild-card to Constant Lestienne, who received a seven-month suspension in 2016 for betting on tennis matches. His main-draw wild card was withdrawn last year, while he was under investigation by the federation.

In a shocking statement of hypocrisy, Guidicelli told The New York Times Lestienne had paid his debt.

Gambling and doping are both crimes. Both players have served their suspensions. Now let them both play.

Tess Fox can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @tesstakesphotos

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