The decision made by the French tennis authorities to deny Maria Sharapova a wild card for the French Open has caused much debate. So much so, it has spilled over onto The National's sports desk. Chitrabhanu Kadalayil and Jon Turner argue their opposing thoughts on Sharapova's Roland Garros snub.
Chitrabhanu Kadalayil — organisers stick to principles
There are two takeaways from the Federation Francaise de Tennis' (FFT) decision to deny Maria Sharapova a wild card to play at this year's French Open.
One is that the FFT made its call based entirely on principle: How can anyone take the sport’s anti-doping campaign seriously while organisers of major tournaments welcome back an offender, in this case Sharapova, with a wild card?
It is also a brave decision, since it is assumed that Sharapova’s absence (along with those of Roger Federer and Serena Williams) will likely translate to lower television ratings and less money being collected at the gates. Whether that will be the case or not, it is evident the powers that be put principle above profit.
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It is also true that the likes of FFT president, Bernard Giudicelli, and French Open director, Guy Forget, followed their conscience.
Forget, only recently appointed, went on the record about being uncomfortable with the idea of granting Sharapova an easy route to the clay courts of Roland Garros, while also aggressively promoting anti-doping campaigns among up and coming players.
“Integrity is one of our strong points. We cannot decide, on the one hand, to increase the amount of funds we dedicate to the anti-doping battle and, on the other, invite her,” he said in March.
Giudicelli was more terse when he said, “I know that there is strong expectation from the media and fans [to give Sharapova a wild card], but we are not doing a casting call. This is not a rock-opera.”
It must have been especially hard for Giudicelli and Forget to use the example of a player who has lifted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen twice, won five grand slam titles and was world No 1. Nevertheless, it is a statement that says: if you have committed an offence, you will be punished for it and what’s more, you will have to get back in line to make your way back to the top.
The French Open, and tennis at large, will benefit from this stance in the long run.
Jon Turner — Sharapova served her time
Let’s start by making one thing clear: Maria Sharapova is not a drugs cheat. Sometimes — admittedly not very often — failing a doping test does not mean an athlete has intentionally used substances to gain an unfair advantage over the competition. Whether you believe Sharapova’s official stance of negligence or whether you remain convinced a more sinister motive was at play, does not matter. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), the governing body that ruled on the Sharapova’s case, deemed her at “no significant fault” when reducing the suspension to 15 months from the initial 24.
Did Sharapova deserve a lengthy suspension? Absolutely. Whether intentional or not a doping test was failed and she had to deal with the consequences. However, those consequences have been dealt with; she has served her time and is starting to rebuild her career. The wild card she received to play at the Stuttgart Open understandably rankled with many, considering the tournament started two days before the end of her ban, but Sharapova is within her rights to accept whatever invites come her way.
The wild cards the Russian received to play in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome were clear attempts by organisers to increase exposure and star power, but when it comes to a grand slam such concerns do not exist.
The FFT were left in an unenviable position when it came to deciding whether to grant a wild card to Sharapova, but to not allow a former two-time champion the opportunity to even enter qualifying seems excessive.
Given professional tennis’s lax approach to anti-doping measures compared to many other sports, it is clear an example is being made of Sharapova — a player who has officially been cleared of intentional doping.
When any sport welcomes back an athlete from a doping suspension, there is always an air of unease, but it is usually business as usual within a few weeks. Perhaps it was too soon after Sharapova’s return for the FFT to risk the backlash of granting her a wild card?
While it is admirable for a sport’s governing body to stand by their “integrity” — as the FFT said in their statement — to suggest Sharapova’s presence in the French Open would damage that would be vastly exaggerated.
The fact remains Sharapova has done her time, was proved not to have intentionally doped, and is a two-time French Open champion. In this instance, common sense should have prevailed.
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