So, Maria Sharapova is back on the circuit. Having served a ban for taking a banned substance, the Russian has so far made a winning return in Stuttgart.
My fellow writer Jay Fer detailed reasons why the Russian should be awarded a Wild Card into Roland Garros next month.
I, on the other hand, think that Sharapova does not at all deserve Wild Cards.
1. She was banned for a failed drugs test
Sharapova admitted to taking the banned substance meldonium, claiming that she did not know it had been banned. Regardless of this being true or not, the Russian is still responsible for what she puts into her own body.
As any sports star knows, the buck stops with you, especially as it has been claimed that Sharapova’s own team did not know she was taking the substance. Therefore, failing a drugs test for a substance on the WADA banned list rightly results in a lengthy ban.
Returning from any kind of ban should not mean you are provided with free entry to a tournament. If anything, a drugs cheat should be made to enter qualifying on their ranking – which will have slipped due to the time out. No banned athlete is allowed a protected ranking in tennis. So why should they be given Wild Cards to circumvent that rule?
2. It sets a bad example to youngsters
Giving banned players a Wild Card into events does not set a good precedent. It actually sends out a message to youngsters wanting to take up sports that you can cheat, get caught, but you can still come back almost as if nothing ever happened.
Sponsors seem too eager to jump on the bandwagon and “re-sponsor” banned athletes. It certainly seems to be a trend that Nike is following. Sharapova has been wearing their outfits in Stuttgart, and Justin Gatlin–the American sprinter who has been banned twice for taking drugs and has returned both times–is still sponsored by Nike.
Major brands should take more responsibility about the image and message they are sending out in situations like these.
3. Popularity should not dictate all
Just because the player is a “big” name or well known should not over-ride the fact that they have been banned. Tournament directors appear to think more about money than morals; this can be understood in a way as the “smaller” events are a business. Giving a Wild Card to someone who has failed a drugs test, regardless of who that player is, should not even be considered.
Wild Cards are meant to be for players whose normal ranking would see them miss out of a spot in the tournament or qualifying. Generally a local favourite (as in from the country or region the event is taking place in), a rising star, or a former champion.
Now, before anyone states that Sharapova is a former champion twice at Roland Garros, we need to make a difference here. An event like Stuttgart–being a business and needing to make money–will of course look at who can bring in more bums on seats, as it were. And even though I disagreed with doing that as well, it’s understandable. However, Slams like Roland Garros, Wimbledon, etc. are run by the ITF and are not dependent on making money like a business. At a Slam, you will always get people coming along, without knowing who they will see on any given day. Also, Slams have to care much more about what’s good for tennis as a game, and not just the tournament’s bottom line.
Slams have to take a different stand–those banned for taking drugs need to be excluded from Wild Cards for the main draw. If the player’s ranking is high enough, let them play in qualifying; if not, they miss the Slam–simple!
Giving Wild Cards to any player banned for anything is simply wrong, and the rules should be looked at regarding the issuing of them in the future.