Farewell, Maria Sharapova, or so it seems.
I hope she enjoys her retirement. She can well afford to, it has to be said. Actually, it doesn’t have to be said, but for that reason alone it is hard to feel sorry for her. She has already made more money than any woman in the history of professional tennis, and more than the vast majority of men.
She is by no means the first professional sportswoman – or sportsman – to be done for taking performance-enhancing drugs, and not by a long shot-putt; the practice has been virtually institutionalised in Russian athletic circles for as long as most of us ancients can remember. She may be the best looking, though, and we shall miss her for that shabby reason alone – assuming she cops a four-year ban, as I’m told is likely.
She is going to miss us even more than we shall miss her, if estimates of her potential loss of sponsorship deals are to be believed. These could be worth as much as 100 million dollars, according to some media reports. No wonder the kid took drugs. Who wouldn’t for the kind of moolah she has been offered for winning an occasional tournament and losing twice a year to Venus Williams?
Meanwhile, Nike and Tag Heuer have pulled out of sponsorship deals already, and Porsche, Avon, Evian and Tiffany are among the other makers of luxury and cosmetic goods that may follow suit.
If my tone sounds cynically flippant it’s because I’m unable to feel either outrage for her offence or pity for her shame in having been exposed for committing it. It may be a headline-generating scandal, but by definition scandals are supposed to be occasional events. Drug-taking by sports people hardly qualifies on that score these days.
For ten years Maria has been ingesting – by what means, and on what diagnostic authority I’m not sure – a substance called Meldonium. Yes, the stuff was permitted by the tennis authorities, but it was banned by the regulators in most other sports, a fact of which she must have been aware, even if she was unaware, as she publicly asserted, of an email alerting her to a change in the rules in her own sport. Meldonium, I should mention, is the trade-name for a Latvian-made drug that increases blood flow to body parts, and is medically prescribed for patients suffering from ischemia, usually the consequence of angina or a weakened heart.
Maria claimed, at her press conference – a pre-emptive strike if ever there was one – and afterwards through spokesmen, that she needed it for genuine medical reasons, among them her family’s history of heart problems and diabetes. The Latvian manufacturer put out a statement that it recommends a course of treatment lasting ‘only a few weeks’. Miss S has been ingesting the stuff, on and off, for a decade. Blood must at times have been coursing through her body at the speed of white water on the Colorado River. That does not, I might add, explain her habit of grunting like a bear with a splinter every time she hit a tennis ball. Presumably there isn’t a drug for that.
I suppose stories will now emerge of other drug-addled tennis players, so add tennis to the list of disgraced professional sports. Most of us will continue to watch them, of course, on the grounds that not every sporting idol is a walking pharmacological repository. Even so, not knowing who is – absent a confident assumption that Miss S and other miscreants are exceptions rather than the rule – does rather detract from the experience and the fun.
For Maria I have a word of advice. You have graced the tennis courts and the gossip columns with style and an animal magnetism for fifteen years. We’ll even overlook the on-court grunts, by virtue of regular glamour shots of those shapely, never-ending legs. Now it’s time to put your feet up and have fun enjoying your money.
In short, now just leave us alone.