OUT OF BOUNDS: Having once set the gold standard for endorsement deals among female athletes, Maria Sharapova has been handed a two-year suspension from the International Tennis Federation for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. But her chief sponsor Nike will continue to partner with her, as will HEAD and NetJets.
A Nike spokesman said Wednesday, “The ITF Tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules. Maria has always made her position clear, has apologized for her mistake and is now appealing the length of the ban. Based on the decision of the ITF and their factual findings, we hope to see Maria back on court and will continue to partner with her.”
In March, the Russian-born professional player publicly revealed that she has tested positive for meldonium. The tennis star did so during this year’s Australian Open in January. She said she had been taking the drug for 10 years and was unaware that it had been placed on the World Antidoping Agency’s banned list this year.
HEAD is also keeping its endorsement deal with Sharapova, claiming that the ITF’s decision is a flawed one, based on the circumstances provided to the company. In a statement issued Wednesday. HEAD chairman Johan Eliasch said, “Without necessary and extensive clinical testing that highlights either Meldonium’s performing enhancing benefits or evidence of it being detrimental to athletes, it is evident that WADA banned Meldonium based upon the amount of athletes using Meldonium rather than any scientific evidence.”
Just two weeks ago the five-time Grand Slam winner was optimistic about her tennis future, wearing a “Back in Five Minutes” T-shirt when hawking her new Sugarpova chocolates at Chicago’s Candy Fair. Hundreds of the ace’s fans bought the same style from Zara, which she has no professional tie to, and tweeted photos of themselves with #IStandWithMaria.
Another sponsor of Sharapovs, NetJets, is also standing by her. A company spokesman said Wednesday, “We continue our relationship with Ms. Sharapova and we look to seeing her back on the court soon.”
With $20 million in endorsement deals and $1.9 million in salary and winnings, Sharapova ranked 88th on this year’s Forbes list for the World’s Highest-Paid Athletes.