Photo Credit: Damian Dovarganes
Instead of announcing her drug infraction, perhaps Maria Sharapova should have announced her retirement – it was what everyone was expecting anyway. Instead of every tennis fan indicting her for her negligence in not knowing that the drug meldonium was as of January 1, 2016 a banned substance as per WADA, they would be celebrating her storied career and Sharapova would be basking in the glow of applause and laudatory statements.
As with any sports personality who makes a controversial announcement to the media about something controversial that has happened to them, the public only gets the bare surface of the story. We don’t know the details. For example, Sharapova said that she has been taking meldonium for 10 years – every day? every month? once a year? Sharapova said that she didn’t get the message about meldonium being a banned substance. Who exactly dropped the ball here – Sharapova? her doctors? her email wrangler? We are left to surmise the intricate details.
But it’s not up to Sharapova to provide us with anything more than what she has provided. That she showed up to make this announcement was more than what I expected. It was a good move though, sort of like a celebrity trumping the announcement of an extramarital affair by making it themselves instead of a gossip trade rag. This way, Sharapova controls both the timing of the announcement and how it is delivered – a classic PR power move.
Maria Sharapova controlled how the message was delivered but the fallout is now mainly out of her control. I can still see her or her team working this part of the story to her advantage to portray her circumstances in a positive light – her lengthy Facebook post thanking “everyone” for all the support being one such thing or drawing the ITF’s and WADA’s attention to the fact of other athletes who have taken the drug who also were unaware of the ban. The more cases of these athletes that come to light, the better her chances of a shorter sanction.
However, Maria Sharapova, by drawing attention to fellow athletes who also take this drug is doing herself no favour. Why are athletes taking this drug? Are they all sick, have early signs of diabetes, or have heart conditions? I doubt it. They take meldonium because it has performance enhancing properties -it reduces recovery time, aids oxygen uptake and enhances endurance. The number of athletes taking the drug certainly would raise the eyebrow of WADA which is probably why they investigated it and concluded that its performance enhancing properties was reason enough for it to be added to the banned drug list.
In the multi-million dollar industry that is Maria Sharapova, you would think that at least one person would keep their eye on the ball and bring it to her attention that meldonium was now a banned drug as of January 1. At the very least, they should have informed her way before that date that WADA was investigating the high number of athletes that took the drug. That should have been the writing on the wall that the drug’s time as use for the professional athlete was up.
So meldonium is now a banned performance enhancing drug. What about caffeine, and protein powder, and creatine, and hyperbaric chambers? Do they not enhance athletic performance? Maybe they should be banned as well. There is a line that WADA obviously has drawn to distinguish between chemically manufactured drugs that enhance performance that athletes take to gain an advantage over other athletes and other more naturally occurring devices that athletes use to gain an advantage over their rivals. Sharapova, one of the world’s most recognized athletes, has crossed that line and now she has to face the consequences.
That Sharapova is one of the top draws of women’s tennis should have no bearing on the sanction she receives. The game is bigger than her and her resulting absence. I don’t think we’ll see her play again in 2016. I’ll gamble that she receives a year suspension for violating the rules. I’ll be surprised if she gets two years. Four years (what former WADA head Dick Pound is suggesting) is out of the question. Her personal confession will count for a lot in her favour.
The greater issue here is athletes taking drugs deliberately manufactured to provide an advantage over other athletes. Meldonium is not one of these drugs. It was a legitimate drug used for health issues. However, somewhere along the sinister road of performance enhancing drugs, the drug’s performance enhancing properties were discovered, marketed and manipulated. Maria Sharapova is now one of the casualties.
When Milos Raonic and Daniel Nestor pulled out of Canada’s latest Davis Cup tie versus France, it was going to be an uphill battle to beat France. France had sent all of their top singles players (and none of their top doubles players by the way) to an outdoor clay court in oppressive heat and humidity – all the ingredients that are not in Canada’s favour.
As the weekend progressed, it became clear that France (with or without Canada’s top singles and doubles players) had come to give Canada a thrashing and draw a line in the clay to stake their claim for the glory of the Davis Cup in November. What also became clear was that the team that Canada sent was battered and bruised and in no shape to contend for any tie – France or even one of the zonal countries. Philip Bester proved to be the strong point for the team as Vasek Pospisil was felled by injury and the humidity, and Frank Dancevic was felled by illness and an injured shoulder.
Last year, when Raonic and Pospisil didn’t show up for the tie versus Belgium (again, due to injury), the tie resulted in much the same way – Canada didn’t win a single point. In an all too familiar story that is now clear, if one or both of Canada’s top players is out, so goes the tie. This is almost as distressing as the annual injuries that have plagued Canada’s top singles players (including Eugenie Bouchard) over the past five years. The injuries are of no surprise. Both Raonic and Pospisil have big bodies that are more prone to injury than more compact players. The win-at-any-cost, stretch-for-every-shot, pulverize-the-ball, push-your-body-past-the-line-of-reason kind of tennis that we are seeing today is not good for the vast majority of professional tennis players. Raonic and Pospisil are prime examples.
Without Raonic, Pospisil, Nestor and Bouchard (in Fed Cup), Canada has no backup team B to fill in for them. You have to go down the rankings into the 200s to find the next best-ranked Canadian players. With teams like France, the United States, the Czech Republic and Spain who have multiple players in the top 100 (and even in the top 50) Canada is left at a distinct disadvantage. Spain and France’s B teams are really second A teams. To be frank, Canada has no depth in professional tennis and it shows in team competitions like Davis Cup and Fed Cup when even one player can’t play. If Raonic, Pospisil and Bouchard wouldn’t have arrived on the scene, Canada would have to rely on Daniel Nestor for world-class results. With the brief exceptions of Frank Dancevic and Aleksandra Wozniak, Nestor has been the bridge between the days of Carling Bassett and Helen Kelesi to today’s top Canadian talent.
There is hope for more depth in Canadian tennis. There is an incredibly talented group of Canadian junior tennis players currently at the top of the junior game. What is even more hopeful for Canadian tennis is that this group came along before Raonic, Pospisil and Bouchard made it big. There is yet another group of young Canadian tennis players who have been inspired by Raonic, Pospisil and Bouchard who have taken up the game and will quickly follow in the footsteps of the juniors ready to step onto the main tour.
This first wave of juniors is a good 3 to 4 years away from stepping onto the main tour. Even though Canada needs more depth, the worst thing to do is to push these promising players onto the big stage. Professional tennis has become a rough and tumble sport. These junior players need to grow – their games and their minds and bodies. Patience is the key at the moment. Canadian tennis fans will just have to grit their teeth and cross their fingers that their top players will find a way to win without sacrificing their bodies in today’s style of slash and burn tennis.
COMPLETED SPEC TV TELEPLAY: The Belcher’s investigation into Mike the mailman’s disappearance leads them to the ledge of Gayle’s apartment building.
COMMENTS: Yes, I’m a fan of Bob’s Burgers. I like the zany writing style and the characters are all spot on. I wrote this spec script as my entry for the Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship. Another fan of the show asked me if I was going to send it to the show. I laughed uncontrollably. Nobodies like me don’t get the opportunity to have a script read (let alone breathed on) by anyone connected with the show – or any show for that matter. It is a cruel world – no matter how good your script is.
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