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Maria Sharapova doping ban reduced to 15 months as French Open return likely

The Guardian logo The Guardian 04-10-2016 Guardian sport
Maria Sharapova could return to play in the French Open in 2017 after her doping ban was reduced by nine months. © Reuters Maria Sharapova could return to play in the French Open in 2017 after her doping ban was reduced by nine months.

The Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova has had her two year doping ban reduced to 15 months on appeal, allowing her to return to the sport in time for next year’s French Open.

The court of arbitration for sport has reduced the original two-year ban imposed by an International Tennis Federation in June after it ruled that the five-time Grand Slam champion was “the sole author of her own misfortune”.

“The panel found that Ms Sharapova committed an anti-doping rule violation and that while it was with ‘no significant fault’, she bore some degree of fault, for which a sanction of 15 months is appropriate,” read a statement from Cas. “The panel wishes to point out that the case it heard, and the award it has rendered, was only about the degree of fault that can be imputed to the player for her failure to make sure that the substance contained in a product that she had been taking over a long period remained in compliance with the anti-doping rules.”

Sharapova’s initial two-year ban was imposed in June but was deemed to have started on 26 January 2016, the day she failed a test for the then recently banned drug meldonium after losing to Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Its reduction to 15 months will mean she can compete once again after midnight on 25 April.

Sharapova admitted she had failed the test, but has since maintained since that she took the drug before it was banned and for health reasons only, on the advice of her doctor over a 10-year period. The International Tennis Federation’s initial tribunal found that while she had not intentionally contravened anti-doping rules, she bore sole responsibility for the substance being in her system during the Australian Open and for her failure to notice that the drug had been added to the banned list.

It also found that Sharapova had deliberately concealed her use of meldonium from the authorities, who require athletes to declare all frequently used medications, as well as from her own coaches and team.

“If she had not concealed her use of Mildronate [the drug’s trade name] from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the contravention would have been avoided,” the tribunal said in its judgment. “She is the sole author of her own misfortune.”

Sharapova appealed against the two-year ban in June, with a statement from her lawyer saying she “did not intend to violate the rules”. They added she was given an “unfairly harsh suspension because she is such a famous athlete and they wanted to make an example out of her”

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