Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova will still have her Nike endorsement deal, despite a doping suspension of two years. File photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI | License Photo
Nike will not terminate the apparel and footwear endorsement deal it has with women's tennis star Maria Sharapova despite a two-year suspension for admitted doping.
Nike has suspended its relationship with Sharapova and previously cut ties with athletes who ran afoul of character clauses in their contracts, most recently former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Sharapova has been given a two-year suspension as a result of testing positive in January for a banned substance. She plans to appeal the suspension which she said was unfair and harsh.
The International Tennis Federation announced the penalty Wednesday for Sharapova, who tested positive at the Australian Open for meldonium, a blood-flow-boosting drug.
The ITF said the independent tribunal who heard Sharapova's case on May 18 and 19 determined her suspension should be back-dated to the date of her sample collection. Sharapova's results from the Australian Open are disqualified, causing her to forfeit ranking points and prize money.
The ITF had asked for Sharapova to be suspended for four years, but the rules state that she could not be suspended for longer than two years if determined her use of the drug was not intentional.
"Today, with their decision of a two-year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional," Sharapova said in a statement. "The tribunal found that I did not seek treatment from my doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance. The ITF spent tremendous amount of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not. You need to know that the ITF asked the tribunal to suspend me for four years -- the required suspension for an intentional violation -- and the tribunal rejected the ITF's position."
Lance Armstrong, Ryan Braun and Tiger Woods all had their deals dropped by Nike.
The 29-year-old Sharapova called a news conference on March 7 at a Los Angeles hotel and announced she had failed a doping test. She said she had taken meldonium for nearly 10 years. That drug became a banned substance on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list as of Jan. 1. Sharapova admitted she did not check the updated banned substance list before Jan. 1.
Sharapova, the winner of five Grand Slam titles, said she will appeal the decision.
"I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension," Sharapova said Wednesday. "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."
The appeal will be sent to the Court of Arbitration in Sport, and three judges will make the ruling. Both Sharapova and the ITF each get to choose one of the judges. The decision will be binding.
"It is important at all times for players to be aware of the rules and to follow them," the WTA said a statement on the ruling. "In this case, Maria has taken responsibility for her mistake from the outset. The WTA supports the process that the ITF and Maria have followed."
Nike, TAG Heuer and Porsche are among the companies to previously suspend their relationships with Sharapova.