Maria Sharapova will miss Olympics after appeal postponed until September

Maria Sharapova will miss Olympics after appeal postponed until September

Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova will miss next month's Rio Olympics after her appeal against an International Tennis Federation drugs ban was postponed until September.

The 29-year-old, who tested positive for meldonium in January, had hoped the Court of Arbitration for Sport could hear her case by July 18, the deadline for teams to be finalised for Rio.

But with both the ITF and Sharapova needing more time to prepare their cases, as well as scheduling conflicts, CAS has revealed its decision will not be delivered until September 19, a month after the Olympics and a week after the final grand slam of the season, the US Open.

Sharapova, who has won five Grand Slam titles and the silver medal at London 2012, was given a two-year suspension by an ITF disciplinary panel on June 6.

She argued that she had been using the Latvian-made heart disease drug under medical advice for a decade and had not realised it had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) banned list on January 1, 2016.

But the panel dismissed this explanation, pointing out that meldonium had been on WADA's "watch list" of controversial drugs for over a year and there had been numerous warnings to athletes about it becoming prohibited in late 2015.

It was also unimpressed with Sharapova's secrecy about her use of meldonium, which is widely used in Eastern Europe but has never been licensed for sale elsewhere.

The highest-earning female athlete in the world appealed against the ITF decision on June 9, asking CAS to either overturn the ban entirely or reduce it.

Sharapova is by far the most high-profile of the tidal wave of meldonium cases that hit anti-doping authorities in 2016: as of mid-April, WADA was aware of 172 positives for the drug since the start of the year.

But WADA itself has come in for considerable criticism in recent months as it has become increasingly obvious that not enough was known about meldonium before it was added to the banned list.

Some critics have questioned whether it actually has performance-enhancing qualities but the biggest controversy has been around how long it takes to clear an athlete's system.

In April, WADA was forced to put back the detection window to March 1 because of concerns that trace elements of the drug stayed in the body longer than expected, and it has now had to extend it again until October 1.

The vast majority of athletes who tested positive for meldonium this year have now had their suspensions provisionally lifted and it is very unlikely that many of them will face any punishment.

Russian heavyweight Alexander Povetkin is one such athlete, having tested positive in the run-up to a world heavyweight title bout against American Deontay Wilder in May. That fight was cancelled at the 11th hour and Povetkin is now seeking damages.

But this avenue is not open to Sharapova, as she has always admitted that she took the drug throughout January, including during January's Australian Open.

Reaction from the tennis world to her case has been very mixed, with some players and pundits acknowledging the fact that her absence hurts the sport's media profile, while others expressing no sympathy for a player who was not the most popular on tour.

The scandal has also damaged Sharapova's prodigious earning power, with several of her sponsors dropping her.

She continues, however, to receive the support of the beleaguered Russian sports establishment, which sees her case as another example of the west's perceived persecution of Russian athletes.

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