By Olawale Alabi
An appeal panel appointed under the Code of Sports-related Arbitration of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has reduced the sanction imposed on Maria Sharapova by an Independent Tribunal.
A report on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) website on Tuesday showed that the sanction imposed by the tribunal on June 8 has been reduced from 24 months to 15 months.
It however said the results and prize money the Russian tennis star earned at the 2016 Australian Open remain disqualified.
The ITF said in the report that Sharapova’s period of ineligibility would now end at midnight of April 25.
The 29-year-old Sharapova provided a urine sample on January 26 which was found to contain meldonium.
The drug was prohibited under section S4 (Hormone and Metabolic Modulators) of the 2016 WADA Prohibited List.
She admitted her consequent violation of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme, and noted that the meldonium was the active ingredient of a medication.
Sharapova said she had been taking the medication, Mildronate, for 10 years and she had not realised it had been added to the Prohibited List as from Jan. 1.
An Independent Tribunal appointed under Article 8.1.1 of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme found that she bore significant fault for her violation.
The tribunal said this was because, among other things, she had failed to put in place an adequate system to check for changes made each year to the Prohibited List.
It therefore imposed on the Russian a two year ban, backdated to commence on Jan. 26.
Her results at the 2016 Australian Open were disqualified, and the ranking points and prize money she won at that event were forfeited.
Sharapova then appealed that decision to CAS on the basis that she bore “No Significant Fault’’ or “Negligence’’ for her anti-doping rule violation.
She had therefore asked that her ban should be reduced from two years to “time served’’.
This meant that she should be free to start competing again from the date of the CAS panel’s decision.
Following a hearing on Sept. 7 and Sept. 8, the CAS panel found that Sharapova had a reduced perception of the risk she took while using Mildronate.
“This was because she had used Mildronate for around 10 years without any anti-doping issue, and she had consulted the Russian doctor who prescribed the Mildronate for medical reasons, not to enhance her performance.
“Also, she had received no specific warning about the change in status of meldonium from WADA, the ITF, or the WTA,’’ the panel submitted.
In addition, the CAS panel considered that it was reasonable for Sharapova to entrust the checking of the Prohibited List each year to her agent.
However, the CAS panel found that she was at fault too.
“This was for failing to give her agent adequate instructions as to how to carry out the important task of checking the Prohibited List, and for failing to supervise and control the actions of her agent in carrying out that task.
“This is specifically the lack of any procedure for reporting or follow-up verification to make sure that her agent had actually discharged his duty.’’
The CAS panel also noted Sharapova’s failure to disclose her use of meldonium on her doping control forms.
Taking all of these circumstances into account, the CAS panel determined that, while she was at fault, the Russian’s plea of No Significant Fault or Negligence should be upheld.
This had thus triggered the discretion to reduce the otherwise applicable two-year sanction by up to 50 per cent.
Based on its analysis of Sharapova’s degree of fault, the CAS panel decided that the sanction should be reduced in this case to 15 months.
The Tennis Anti-Doping Programme applies to all players competing at Grand Slam tournaments and events sanctioned by the ITF, ATP, and WTA.
Players are tested for substances prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Upon a finding that an Anti-Doping Rule Violation has been committed, sanctions are imposed under the Programme in compliance with the requirements of the World Anti-Doping Code.