MOSCOW // Three of Maria Sharapova’s multimillion-dollar sponsors yesterday cut their ties with the tennis star after she failed a doping test.
Nike, Porsche and Tag Heuer moved swiftly to distance themselves from the five-time grand slam winner after she admitted taking the little-known drug meldonium, which was banned this year.
The US sportswear company “decided to suspend our relationship with Maria”, the German carmaker has “chosen to postpone planned activities” with Sharapova and the Swiss watchmaker will not renew a contract that expired in 2015.
Sharapova, 28, was the world’s highest-paid female athlete last year for the 11th consecutive year. She earned US$29.7 million, more than Dh100m, of which $23m came from sponsorships and endorsements. Her 2010 Nike deal alone was worth $70m over eight years.
Sharapova also has links with Avon cosmetics and Evian water, and her extensive business ventures include the high-profile Sugarpova confectionery brand.
“She’s a one-woman marketing machine,” said Nigel Currie, a British sponsorship consultant. “There are very few female athletes who are recognised in every country, but she is one of them, which makes her very attractive to global brands.” Mr Currie said it was “amazing” how quickly sponsors react. “They are paranoid about their image, and the slightest risk to their image, they run to the hills.”
Sharapova announced on Monday that she had failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January, an event she won in 2008.
“I know that with this, I face consequences,” she said. “I don’t want to end my career this way, and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game.
“I take great responsibility and professionalism in my job, and I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let the sport down that I’ve been playing since the age of four, that I love so deeply.”
Sharapova said her family doctor had been giving her meldonium, a heart medicine that improves blood flow, for 10 years after she frequently became sick and had irregular echocardiography results, a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes. “I was first given the substance back in 2006. I had several health issues going on at the time,” she said.
Grindeks, the Latvian company that manufactures meldonium, said the normal course of treatment for the drug was four to six weeks, although it could be repeated twice or three times a year.
Meldonium is used to treat chest pain and heart attacks among other conditions, but some researchers have linked it to increased athletic performance and endurance. It was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency in January because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance, and Sharapova is the seventh athlete in a month to test positive for it.
All tennis players were notified of the changes in the Wada banned substances list in December. Sharapova said she simply missed the change, and neglected to click on the link.
She will be suspended from playing tennis from Saturday and could be prevented from competing for Russia at the Olympics this year in Rio.
* Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg News