Maria Sharapova pledges to appeal ‘unfairly harsh’ two-year ban

Maria Sharapova has vowed to appeal the two-year suspension handed to her for failing a drugs test at the Australian Open.

Maria Sharapova pledges to appeal ‘unfairly harsh’ two-year ban

Sharapova’s ban, announced by the International Tennis Federation yesterday, is backdated to January 26 this year, when she tested positive for prohibited substance meldonium.

The five-time grand slam champion will miss the Olympic Games in Rio this summer while the earliest grand slam she could next enter is the French Open in 2018.

Sharapova claimed in March she was prescribed meldonium in 2006 for “several health issues” and was unaware it had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s prohibited list from January 1 this year.

An Independent Tribunal concluded, however, that while Sharapova had not deliberately broken anti-doping rules, for which she would have received a four-year ban, she had taken the substance to enhance her performance and failed to make necessary checks regarding its legality.

Sharapova described the two-year suspension as “unfairly harsh” and says she will lodge an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension,” Sharapova wrote on Facebook.

“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 will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.”

Sharapova’s results at the Australian Open, where she lost to Serena Williams in the quarter-finals, have been disqualified, with her prize money and ranking points earned in Melbourne also removed.

Meldonium was on WADA’s watch list last year and in September the agency announced it would be banned from the start of 2016, citing “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance”.

The substance, which carries a brand name of ‘mildronate’, is principally used for cases of ischaemic heart disease but its ability to boost blood-flow can also improve an athlete’s endurance.

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