POSTED: March 9th 2016

NEIL WILSON: Olympic bans not enough for cheats like Maria Sharapova

Tennis champion Maria Sharapova publicly announced that she had failed the doping test © Getty Images
Tennis champion Maria Sharapova publicly announced that she had failed the doping test © Getty Images

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Another day passes, another Russian is revealed as a doper. Today, as I write, it is Ekaterina Strelkova, a short track speed skater.

Earlier in the week it was Pavel Kulizhnikov, a world champion speedskater, Ekaterina Bobrova, an Olympic champion ice dancer, and Alexander Markova, an international volleyball player.

And then, just in case none of the aforementioned meant anything to you,  there was on Monday Maria Sharapova, Olympic silver  medal tennis player and five-time Grand Slam winner.

Wow! Now that one took the breath away. While the others managed no more than a mention on social media, Sharapova's revelation that she was positive for a banned drug after losing in the final of the Australian Open was a global sensation.

Her drug of choice, like that of the others, was meldonium. She offered a list of excuses, among them that she had taken it for 10 years for medical reasons and had not realised it was listed as prohibited by WADA on January 1 this year.

None stood examination. The recommended treatment, say the manufacturers, is four to six weeks, not ten years.  And early indications of diabetes, which is one reason she gave for taking it, is not something for which it is prescribed.

The truth is that she thought it would give her an edge over opponents, because the manufacturers said it enhanced aerobic capacity. Just as hundreds of Eastern European athletes, mostly Russian, thought. Either that or the world must believe that there is an epidemic of heart condition sweeping elite sport in that neck of the world.

A study that was described on the latest German TV documentary about systemic doping in Russian sport found 724 of 4,316 Russians tested had meldonium in their system last year.  That is 17%. And they expect us to believe that they all have medical conditions?

In 2015 it was not illegal under WADA rules. It was though, under WADA rules, "against the spirit of sport" if they were taking it to gain an advantage, which is why WADA belatedly came round to banning it.

From that moment in sporting parlance it became cheating. In legal terms, surely, it became fraud. She won $400,000 at the Australian Open, money she obtained by false pretences, by pretending that she was playing the game under the same rules and conditions as her opponents.

That, in my book, is criminal. And the day that the national governments who fund the World Anti Doping Agency's efforts recognize in statute that cheating is a criminal offence will be the day we take a huge step towards eradicating it.

Then we would not be talking about whether Sharapova will be banned long enough to miss this year's Olympic Games, or the next four years of Wimbledon, but how long she would be locked up in the slammer.  And good riddance. Cheats must not be allowed to prosper.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

Keywords · Olympics · Maria Sharapova · Neil Wilson

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