SBD/May 18, 2017/Marketing and Sponsorship

Sharapova Racket Sponsor Supports French Open's Wild Card Decision, Blames WADA

Sharapova already has secured a spot in the qualifying draw for Wimbledon
Head Owner & CEO Johan Eliasch believes that the French Tennis Federation (FFT) "made the right call" not to hand Maria Sharapova a wild card spot in the French Open, but he has "laid the blame for one of his most prominent clients missing the second grand-slam event of the year at the door" of WADA, according to Stuart Fraser of the LONDON TIMES. Eliasch said, "I don’t think there should be wild cards for doping offenders. Yes, I am disappointed, but rules are rules. What also disappoints me is the fact that Wada has not conducted their business properly, that disappoints me more than the fact that Maria is not playing." He added, "This issue with Maria and the French Open, that is a consequence of Wada breaching their own rules for a delinquent way of operating" (LONDON TIMES, 5/18). A WADA spokesperson said that the organization had "followed all the required procedures" before including meldonium -- which Sharapova tested positive for -- on their "list of banned substances." REUTERS' Aditi Prakash notes Sharapova "secured a spot in the qualifying draw for Wimbledon by meeting ranking criteria but will find out if she receives a wildcard for the main draw on June 20" (REUTERS, 5/18).

SIMON SAYS: In N.Y., Christopher Clarey notes for now, there is "no rule governing the issuance of wild cards to players coming back from doping-related suspensions." WTA CEO Steve Simon said that he "did not plan on pushing for re-examination of the wild-card rule, but would be open to it." Simon "maintains that the federation went too far." He said, "I’m sure their position is because of what she was suspended for, they don’t feel she should be getting any special help, and by the way that they’ve expressed it, to me what they’ve done, in essence, is increase her penalty." Others "rejected Simon’s interpretation of the French Open snub," including tennis player Nicole Gibbs. Gibbs in an email wrote, "By criticizing the French Open, the WTA is making a pitch for preferential treatment for Maria that would not be made for other players" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/18).

SETTING A PRECEDENT
: TENNIS.com's Steve Tignor wrote from a "broad point of view, this is an eminently respectable decision." Paris is a city that has "seen one of its signature sporting events, the Tour de France, decimated by doping." Here was a chance for another of those events, the French Open, to "take a strong, if symbolic, stand against any hint of the same taint." Roland Garros recently "lost its other top women’s draw," Serena Williams, and could have used Sharapova’s presence. Instead, the French has "used this wild card -- or the lack of one -- to send a no-tolerance message to the sports world at large." Still, respecting FFT President Bernard Giudicelli’s decision "doesn’t mean we have to agree with it." From a less broad, more individualistic standpoint, the decision is "too harsh." Tignor: "She has served her time and earned her status, and she’ll do more for the game when she’s on the court than she will when she’s off it" (TENNIS.com, 5/17). ESPN.com's Bonnie Ford notes wild cards are "handed out at the discretion of tournament officials." Sharapova is a two-time French Open champion, but its organizers "owed her exactly nothing." In a greater sense, the Sharapova wild-card decision "sets a precedent that may create headaches tennis will come to regret" (ESPN.com, 5/18). USA TODAY's Christine Brennan writes Sharapova "has been punished" and now "deserves the chance to come back to her sport and resume her career in earnest." Brennan: "As journalists we don’t cheer for the athletes we cover, but I certainly hope Sharapova gets every opportunity to recapture some of the greatness that propelled her to five Grand Slam titles" (USA TODAY, 5/18).
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