By Kunle Solaja
Maria Sharapova, five-time Grand Slam winner, began a provisional suspension last Saturday following the outcome of dope test conducted on her at the Australia Open in January. She test positive to the newly prohibited substance, meldonium. Unlike most athletes caught in drug related episodes, her case is a bit complicated and had therefore drawn diverse reactions.
As a Russian, the raging spate of failed dope tests by her compatriots is almost making the episode a state-sponsored doping. Is that really the situation? There is still a pall of darkness on the possibility of Russian athletes featuring at the Rio 2016 Olympics. But unlike her other compatriots, there are sympathisers for Maria Sharapova who, according to Forbes list, is the highest-earning female athlete in the world in each of the past 11 years.
Her case evokes the memories of Maria in the classic 1965 American musical drama film, “The Sound of Music”. Maria, around who the film largely centred, was an enthusiastic and music crazy lady who often strayed to sing while she was supposed to be at a convent to become a nun. Her attitude raised concern among other nuns who sang “How do you solve a problem like Maria?”
Just as the nuns sang, it is imperative to ask: ‘How do you solve a problem like Maria (Sharapova)?’ She had been taking meldonium legitimately for 11 years, supposedly on health ground. She reportedly had been taking it on the prescription of her family doctor to treat variety of ailments prevalent in her family. She claimed she knew the drug as ‘mildronate’. “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”.
It was on January 1 this year that the rules changed and meldonium became a prohibited substance, which I had not known.” Maria is believed to be a very organized person who meticulously follows her programmes.
“Maria is so thorough in every single thing she does, that’s one of the incredible attributes that she has”, a 1977 Wimbledon champion, Virginia Wade remarked while expressing surprise at Maria’s error.
More puzzling was her claim that she inadvertently failed to open a December 22, 2015 e-mail from WADA which informed of changes to the banned list, she was unaware that the substance had been included among prohibited items which will take effect from January 1.
Can one take ignorance to the law as an excuse? She tested positive after losing to Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarter-finals on January 26. As stated earlier, opinions on her have been varying. Better still, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
Expectedly, her various endorsements became the first casualties. Sportswear company, Nike, promptly ended association with her until investigations are complete, while watch manufacturer Tag Heuer said it does not plan to extend Sharapova’s contract. Porsche has postponed planned activities with the player, and mineral water company Evian says it will closely follow the investigation.
The tennis community is divided on opinion on Maria. Eighteen-times Grand Slam champion, Martina Navratilova, reportedly felt Sharapova had simply committed an “honest mistake”. But World Number two tennis player, Andy Murray insists thatMaria Sharapova “must accept responsibility” for failing a drug test and serve her ban.
But Women’s world number one Serena Williams said Sharapova’s positive test was not indicative of a wider drug problem within tennis.
“We live in a massive world with billions of people and we have a few people that do things and it makes people scared, but that doesn’t make the whole world a bad place,” she reportedly said. “That’s the same thing with tennis.
“The majority of the players really pride themselves on having integrity and playing with that.”
Williams, who said she was “terrified” of taking any supplements, has offered her support to Sharapova, saying she had shown “a lot of courage”.
Maria Sharapova’s positive drug test is no doubt another blow to tennis, a sport that had previously been hit by similar high profile drug cases. Former Grand Slam winners Martina Hingis and Andre Agassi are among those who have been banned for testing positive for recreational drugs.
Three years ago, Marin Cilic, a former US Open champion was banned for taking a glucose tablet bought at a pharmacy in France. He however got his suspension reduced from nine to four months.
For certain, she is out of Rio Olympics no matter how short her eventual ban will be, even though the Russian Tennis Federation president, Shamil Tarpishchev thinks otherwise as he expects Sharapova to feature. “This is just a load of nonsense,” he told the Russian news agency, TASS.
But there may be a ray of hope for Maria. BBC quoted a former head of UK anti doping body, Michele Verroken, saying that Maria Sharapova’s ban may be shorter if she can prove she needed to take meldonium for medical reasons.
According to BBC, “the challenge facing Maria Sharapova and her team is to bring forward the diagnostic evidence that she has a condition that required the prescription of this treatment.” This may be what will give Maria Sharapova a soft landing.
Behold! Nigeria’s new Nike shirt
Super Eagles and the other national teams of Nigeria may soon don new 2016 kits designed by Jack Henderson for kit manufacturers, Nike. The same man is behind the new kit concepts for the US and major European teams under the kit sponsorship of Nike.
Most of the designs have the same concept. They are based on the assumption of a uniform template for all Nike Euro 2016 jerseys, similar to what the brand did at the 2004 Euro in Portugal.
It consists of diagonal fading stripes. In the case of the Nigerian home shirt which has striking similarity with that of Slovenia, the stylized fading stripes are in the chest region.
The other part of the shirt has a darker shade of green. From the armpit to the sides are white lines. The neck region of the shirt has lemon green shade half way from the back. That is what differentiates it from that of Slovenia which has white instead of the lemon green that the Nigerian shirt has. Also, the Slovenia shirt does not have the white lines that run from the armpit to the sides.
NSC Decree No 7 finally obeyed
Last week, the Decree No. 7 of 1991 was eventually upheld as the Federal Government scrapped the National Sports Commission, NSC. The body which had existed first as National Sports Council in the early 1960s was re-established as National Sports Commission by Decree No. 34 in 1971 and amended by Decree 34 of 1979.
However, on February 4, 1991, the decree establishing the commission was repealed by the Decree No. 7 of 1991. That meant that the Decree No. 7 of 1991 repealed the NSC Act of 1971 and consequently dissolved the NSC established there under. The Decree 7 among others provides for the transfer of staff of the NSC to the Federal Ministry of Youth and Sports.
It is just now that the decree which has since become an Act of the Parliament is being obeyed.