Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova suspended over doping

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Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, who is one of the world’s most successful female athletes, has been banned from professional tennis for two years after she failed a drugs test at the 2016 Australian Open.

The world’s tennis governing body ITF said in a statement on Wednesday that a urine sample taken after Sharapova’s quarter-final match at the Australian Open in Melbourne in January tested positive for the banned substance meldonium.

“Ms. Sharapova was charged with an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under Article 2.1 of the Program (presence of a Prohibited Substance in a Player’s Sample),” the ITF said in its statement. “She promptly admitted that she had committed the Anti-Doping Rule Violation charged, and asked for a hearing before an Independent Tribunal.”

The charge stems from Sharapova’s use of Mildronate, which is used to treat a lack of blood flow and was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances on January 1. Sharapova insists she had taken Mildronate for more than 10 years and was not aware that the substance had been banned.

During the proceedings, the International Tennis Federation accepted Sharapova’s explanation, but argued that by taking the medication she “knowingly and manifestly disregarded” the risk of breaking anti-doping rules, and thus the federation considered it an intentional violation.

In a statement responding to the two-year suspension, Sharapova said she would immediately appeal the decision. “While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension,” she said.

Sharapova added: “The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. … I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.”

Unless overturned, the suspension will remain in effect until 26 January 2018, and her results at the 2016 Australian Open will be disqualified, including her ranking points and the prize money she received.

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