Will any sport be spared of this menace? Ben Johnson, Tyson Gay, Marion Jones, and now Maria Sharapova. If Lance Armstrong shattered the very myth of the adage ‘superhuman’ — one who overcomes cancer to win a record seven titles in the world’s greatest endurance test that Tour de France is — then this news of Sharapova admitting to taking a banned substance will smash the very notion of tennis being a clean sport. The five-time Grand Slam champion tested positive at the Australian Open in January. Athletics, cycling, weightlifting are some of the much-afflicted disciplines. So rampant is the use of steroids and stimulants that medals in these events have often been looked at with suspicion. But professional tennis, like football, had by and large managed to stay away from these things, until recently.
There were whispers and even the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) felt the need for closer monitoring, but for years the International Tennis Federation with Association of Tennis Professionals as well as FIFA managed to stay away from WADA’s clutches. They started adhering to WADA Code a few years ago after professionals in these sports were allowed to be part of the Olympics. It was then that the WADA’s ‘Whereabouts Clause’ was reluctantly accepted by tennis stars. Interestingly, the 28-year-old Sharapova, unlike other tainted athletes, chose to announce her failed dope test herself rather than getting her name sullied in rumours and speculations. Intriguing is the Russian’s admission of using the drug (meldonium) for 10 years. The substance was added to the WADA banned list this year after it was discovered that it helps athletes enhance performance and was being widely used.
Sharapova says she started taking the drug after regular bouts of illness and that she had magnesium deficiency with a family history of diabetes. So family doctor advised her to take the medicine that is banned in the US. Since it helps increase blood circulation, it helps athletes work out more and longer. Even Sharapova’s story of feigning ignorance is like any other drug cheat. It may still sound credible if an Indian athlete from a humble background does it but not in Sharapova’s case. With match-fixing cloud hovering, tennis, it seems, is slowly losing its aura of purity.