The Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced Maria Sharapova’s two-year suspension to 15 months, it announced in a decision on Tuesday.
The 29-year-old tennis star can return to play in April, making her eligible to compete in the French Open next year.
In its release, the three-member CAS panel found that while Sharapova’s anti-doping rule violation was with no significant fault, “she bore some degree of fault” that caused the panel to conclude a 15-month suspension was appropriate.
The panel pointed out that the case it heard and award it rendered were only about the degree of fault of a player for failing to ensure a substance in a product she had used over a long period of time complied with anti-doping rules.
In a statement, Sharapova said, “I’ve gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April.
“In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back. Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court.”
Sharapova failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January for taking meldonium, which was added to the banned substances list this year. In July, the ITF suspended her for two years.
An independent tribunal backdated her suspension to the date of her sample collection because of her “prompt admission of her violation.”
Her initial two-year suspension would have run through Jan. 26, 2018.
Since announcing her positive drug test, Sharapova asserted that she did not realize meldonium, which is also known by its brand name Mildronate, had been banned. While she had taken the drug for more than 10 years, the ITF tribunal took issue with her efforts to conceal her use of it.
She tested positive for meldonium seven times since 2015 — largely during that year when the World Anti-Doping Agency was monitoring its use and it was not banned — and she failed to disclose that on seven doping control forms.
“She must have known that taking a medication before a match, particularly one not currently prescribed by a doctor, was of considerable significance,” the ITF tribunal wrote. “This was a deliberate decision, not a mistake. Taken together with the evidence that over a period of 3 years she did not disclose her use of Mildronate to her coach, trainer, physio, nutritionist or any medical adviser she consulted through the WTA, the facts are only consistent with a deliberate decision to keep secret from the anti-doping authorities the fact that she was using Mildronate in competition.”
While the tribunal did not accept the ITF’s assertion that Sharapova had intentionally violated the rules, it did place sole responsibility with her.
Sharapova said she had learned from this, and that she hopes the ITF did as well.
“I have taken responsibility from the very beginning for not knowing that the over-the-counter supplement I had been taking for the last ten years was no longer allowed,” she said in her statement. “But I also learned how much better other Federations were at notifying their athletes of the rule change, especially in Eastern Europe where Mildronate is commonly taken by millions of people.
“Now that this process is over, I hope the ITF and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other Federations did, so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through.”