Maria Sharapova, who was suspended by the International Tennis Federation for her use of the recently banned drug meldonium, is winning points in the court of public opinion. The tennis star, who launched a line of chocolates for her Sugarpova candy company at a Candy Fair in Chicago last week, wore a Zara T-shirt to the launch with the words, “Back in Five Minutes” across the chest because it resonated with her. Since then, hundreds of Sharapova’s fans have purchased the T-shirt, which she had no involvement in, and have posted pictures of themselves in it, tweeting Sharapova with the hashtag #IStandWithMaria.
Officials at Inditex, parent company of Zara, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment about the T-shirt.
The T-shirt, which retails for $22.90, has become somewhat of a symbol of solidarity for Sharapova’s fans as they wait to see whether she will be able to play tennis again. A decision is expected shortly. Sharapova has close to 20 million fans on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, so the T-shirt is generating plenty of publicity for Zara.
Sharapova, a 29-year-old Russian, is one of the world’s highest-profile sports stars to be barred for meldonium use. The drug, which she had been taking for 10 years, was placed on the World Antidoping Agency’s banned list this year after being on its Monitoring List in 2015. Sharapova is awaiting to hear the full extent of her punishment, which could be as much as a four-year ban, although some experts say it’s more likely to be a six-month, 12-month or 18-month suspension.
Sharapova failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January. Nike, her sponsor, put their relationship on hold until a decision comes out. Some professional tennis players at the time came to her support, while others did not.
As one former tennis player, Jennifer Capriati, tweeted back in March: “I’m extremely angry and disappointed. I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what. I had to throw in the towel and suffer. I didn’t have the high-priced team of doctors that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up. The responses are exactly what I am talking about. Everything based on illusion and lie driven by the media for over 20 years beyond unfair.”