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Maria Sharapova appeal successful, ban reduced to 15 months

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She will return to tennis in April 2017.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 7: Tennis player Maria Sharapova addresses the media regarding a failed drug test at the Australian Open at The LA Hotel Downtown on March 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Sharapova, a five-time major champion, is currently the 7th ranked player on the WTA tour. Sharapova, withdrew from this week's BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells due to injury. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Sharapova had earlier faced a two-year ban effective January 26, 2016

Earlier this year, former World No. 1 Maria Sharapova found herself handed a two-year ban from tennis after testing positive for banned substance meldonium during the Australian Open.

Read more: Sharapova handed two-year tennis ban

Following an appeal, the Russian ace has seen the International Tennis Federation (ITF) reduce her ban to 15 months after investigation by an independent tribunal appointed to the case.

Although the earlier ruling – that her Australian Open results and earnings from 2016 both stand cancelled – remains, Sharapova now sees her date of return to tennis moved forward from 26th January 2018 to 25th April 2017.

Sharapova had appealed that she had been unaware that meldonium, a relatively new addition to the list of substances banned by WADA, the World Anti Doping Agency, had in fact been added to that list.

Read more: What is meldonium (mildronate), and how did Sharapova use it?

Although it has been used as a performance enhancer in the past, Sharapova successfully appealed that she had been taking the drug as medication for a heart condition. In her appeal, she also said that she had missed notifications from WADA, the ITF or the Women’s Tennis Association. The tribunal found it acceptable for Sharapova to have entrusted the “checking of the Prohibited List” to her agent, which Sharapova had alleged earlier this year as the lapse in information.

The tribunal also found her reasoning of “medical use” suitable.

A panel from the CAS – the Council of Arbitration of Sport  – accepted that Sharapova had received no specific warning about the change in status of meldonium from WADA, the ITF, or the WTA. In addition, the CAS panel considered that it was reasonable for Ms. Sharapova to entrust the checking of the Prohibited List each year to her agent.
 

Under the TUE or Therapeutic Use Exemption system, athletes may apply for exemptions to take substances that are otherwise banned by WADA for health purposes. Given mildronate was not on the banned list when Sharapova had been taking it, the Russian would have had no reason to declare it as a TUE – absolving her of blame.

Taking all of these circumstances into account, the CAS panel determined that, although Ms. Sharapova was at fault, her plea of No Significant Fault or Negligence should be upheld, triggering a discretion to reduce the otherwise applicable two year sanction by up to 50 per cent. Based on its analysis of Ms. Sharapova's degree of fault, the CAS panel decided that the sanction should be reduced in this case to 15 months.
 
Sharapova will look to return at Stuttgart next year, but realistically should likely return to competitive tennis in either Madrid or Prague.
 

Sharapova reacts

“I’ve gone from one of the toughest days of my career in March to one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return in April,” she said to reporters following the shortening of her ban. Saying the ITF needed to “do more to inform its athletes,” Sharapova also said she hoped the association had “learned as well.”
 

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