Swiss watchmaker cut ties with Maria Sharapova after failed drug test

Maria Sharapova stunned the sporting world after failing a drugs test in Melbourne earlier this ...
Maria Sharapova stunned the sporting world after failing a drugs test in Melbourne earlier this year. PHOTO: OmniSport

Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer cut ties with tennis star Maria Sharapova on Tuesday (March 8), the latest sponsor after Nike and Porsche to distance itself from the world’s highest-paid female athlete following her failed drug test.

The swift response on the heels of Sharapova’s announcement on Monday signaled a change in attitude among high-profile corporate backers following a series of doping and corruption scandals in world sports.

However, tennis fans in Indian Wells, California, expressed support for Sharapova.

“I really hope it was just an oversight, I really think it’s sad that as a woman you feel that you have to take a medication or a drug to be the best you can be, I think she can be the best she can be without medications, but hopefully she is in the best of health,” said Debbie, a tennis fan from Indian Wells.

“It’s such a strict thing now with these drugs that the endorsement companies don’t want to be affiliated with anyone taking drugs, so it’s up to them that they want to pull out right away, you know Porsche and Nike and a watch company, I don’t remember which one it was, so you know we’ll see what happens with her but you know generally she’s a wonderful player,” added Lorrie, another local tennis aficionado.

Sharapova’s failed drug test at January’s Australian Open, one of four annual Grand Slam events, will likely lead to a ban for the 28-year old Russian. The International Tennis Federation’s anti-doping program calls for a four-year suspension for a positive test. That ban can be reduced in various circumstances, such as if the player shows no significant fault or negligence.

Loss of sponsor income would be costly for Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner who earned $29.7 million last year, according to Forbes magazine, most of it from endorsements, appearances and royalties rather than victories on court.

“It was not intentional, it was just one of these things that they changed the rules after she had been taking this medication for so long, of course it was her fault that she hadn’t read what had come out at the beginning of the year and her team but I really do not think she did it intentionally, that she was taking the medication intentionally. She’s such a good player,” said Anna, a tennis fan from Nova Scotia, Canada.

Amateur tennis player Al Benoit blamed Sharapova’s team for not being more careful.

“But I am a little bit surprised that somebody on her team wasn’t more attentive to the change in rules at the beginning of the year for that substance and that they didn’t take care of it, they didn’t take her off it, expecting her to slide. But I also noticed that she wasn’t the only athlete that got caught, there’s other athletes in other sports that the same thing happened to them, several other ones, so she should have been more attentive or someone should have been more attentive on her team but these things happen sometimes,” he said.

Sharapova, who lit up women’s tennis when she won Wimbledon in 2004 as a 17-year-old, is still ranked among the top players. She was the world’s highest-paid female athlete last year for the 11th consecutive year, and Forbes put her off-court career earnings at more than $200 million.

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