Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Sports

Sharapova's drug-test bombshell scares off sponsors

Maria Sharapova was abandoned Tuesday by some of her biggest sponsors after the tennis star acknowledged she had been taking a recently banned substance for a decade.

Sportswear giant Nike, Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer and German carmaker Porsche quickly distanced themselves from the five-time Grand Slam winner, who announced on Monday that she tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January, days after the drug was banned.

The former world No. 1 could face a lengthy ban from the International Tennis Federation, possibly ending her season and preventing her from competing for Russia at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sharapova, who maintained that said she used meldonium for various medical issues, didn't indicate Monday how often she took it. Grindeks, the Latvian company that manufactures the drug, said in an email to the Associated Press that meldonium normally is prescribed for periods of four to six weeks. The heart medication improves blood flow.

Sharapova's lawyer, John J. Haggerty, declined to go into specifics Tuesday but said he wanted to "disabuse the concept that Maria took mildronate every day for 10 years because that's simply not the case."

The World Anti-Doping Agency banned meldonium Jan. 1 because it said it aids oxygen uptake and endurance, and several athletes in various sports have been caught using it.

Grindeks said Tuesday that it believed the drug would not enhance performance in athletic competition.

Still, none of that seemed to matter to Sharapova's sponsors.

"We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova," Nike said in a statement. "We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation."

TAG Heuer, which had been discussing a new deal with Sharapova, said it has decided not to renew the contract.

Porsche said it had "chosen to postpone planned activities" with her "until further details are released and we can analyze the situation."

Even veterans of sports advertising were surprised Tuesday by how quickly these and other sponsors sought to push away from such a bankable performer.

For the past 11 years, Sharapova has led the Forbes magazine list of highest-paid female athletes, earning an estimated $29.5 million last year alone.

"She's a one-woman marketing machine," said Nigel Currie, an independent British sponsorship consultant. "There are lots of male stars in the world, but not many female stars."

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