Friday, March 11, 2016

The Week That Was

by Savannah

The week that the tennis world found out that the woman who had been chosen as the face of her sport was doping for the last ten years is drawing to a close. Everyone, tennis fans and non fans is talking about the fall from grace of Maria Sharapova and what it means for the future of women's tennis.

Some of her fans (and those who are paid or not paid) to promote her on social media, are promoting a few things now.

  • She wasn't "officially doping" until January 1, 2016.
  • She is being persecuted because she is Russian.
  • The effects of meldonium are negligible, no more rousing than a double expresso.
  • A TUE may be granted.

Okay lets go one point at a time.

A man or woman hitting bottom and showing up at an AA, NarcAnon or Gamblers Anonymous meeting isn't a newly formed addict. They've engaged in the behavior that brought them to that meeting for many years and have finally reached the point where they can't stand themselves either. Acknowledging the fact that they're addicts doesn't mean that as of the day of their first meeting they became an addict does it?

Let's be clear. I'm not saying Ms Sharapova is a junkie. I'm making an analogy. However, what do you call someone who takes a medication they don't need (it bears repeating that her lawyer never said she had any of the medical conditions meldonium treats and that mentioning diabetes was a really silly thing to do) for ten years? Drugs like Vicodin, oxycontin and adderall all treat specific physical conditions, temporary or permanent. Those who take them when they're not needed are called what? Addicts. In sports they're called dopers.

Let's turn to sports then, specifically Lance Armstrong. He strongly denied, for years, that he was using PED's. He destroyed the careers of those who insisted that he did use them. And when the truth was revealed sports media was left with egg on its collective face. They'd reported the denials as truths and vilified those who "were out to get Armstrong" for years. And they were wrong.

It's because of the Armstrong case that I'm still surprised that Ms Sharapova and her lawyer took a page out of that book and came out of the gate charging citing medical use that has yet to be proven, telling a closed door meeting with chosen members of the press that Ms Sharapova had listed the drug on her declaration sheets she'd given to the ITF during the AO, and putting out cheerful press releases saying "the world is with Maria" and showing her romping on the beach with an unidentified male who was wearing a shirt that said "Sven" on the back. I should note in passing that none of the men who have coached Maria since her father stepped aside have said a word. Not one word that I'm aware of as I type this.

A Russian friend made me aware that the Russian press was taking the tack that Russian athletes were being persecuted by the West for geopolitical reasons. That argument has gone from one made only in Russian language forums to non Russian fan forums. I don't know what to say except that if even after the ban close to 60 of your athletes have tested positive for a drug that was on the watch list for all of 2015 and officially banned at the beginning of 2016 there is cause for concern.

I'm seeing this argument a lot now because fans are asking if tennis and sports media would've stepped so lightly if the person found to have doped for ten years was another player. "It's not racial" they say. Uh huh. I'll be charitable and say they're delusional. Or that their jobs depend on them pushing that meme.

If the effects of meldonium are so negligible why were so many athletes using it? Did it give them a buzz of some kind? Or did it, as has been alleged, increase endurance? Tennis fans can cite matches where Sharapova showed miraculous fight and endurance and many admire her for that if for nothing else. If it was so above board why did Sharapova, a 21 year resident of the US, have to buy the drug on her own after it was prescribed by a "family doctor" who has yet to be identified? If a doctor in the US prescribed and provided it to her he or she has probably hired a lawyer by now. If the doctor is based in Eastern Europe or Russia he or she is simply shrugging their shoulders and asking "what?".

Then there's the TUE (therapeutic use exemption) solution that was being bandied about. There are four criteria that have to be met in order for a TUE to be granted. You can't meet some of the criteria you have to meet them all.

1.1.2. Criteria for granting a TUE

The four criteria that must be fulfilled before a TUE is granted are set forth
in the International Standard for TUEs:

1. “The Athlete would experience a significant impairment to health if
the Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method were to be withheld in
the course of treating an acute or chronic medical condition.” (Article
4.1 a. of the International Standard for TUEs.)

2. “The Therapeutic Use of the Prohibited Substance or Prohibited
Method would produce no additional enhancement of performance
other than that which might be anticipated by a return to a state of
normal health following the treatment of a legitimate medical
The Use of any Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method to increase
“low-normal” levels of any endogenous hormone is not considered an
acceptable Therapeutic intervention.” (Article 4.1b of the International
Standard for TUEs.)
Enhancement of performance should be taken to mean the return by the
Athlete to his/her level of performance prior to the onset of the medical
condition requiring treatment. This means that there may be some
enhancement of individual performance as a result of the efficacy of the
treatment. Nevertheless, such enhancement must not exceed the level of
performance of the Athlete prior to the onset of his/her medical condition.

3. “There is no reasonable Therapeutic alternative to the Use of the
otherwise Prohibited Substance or Prohibited Method.” (Article 4.1
c of the International Standard for TUEs.)
Two points should be noted in relation to reasonable Therapeutic
 Only valid and referenced medications are considered as
 The definition of what is valid and referenced may vary from one
country to another. These differences should be taken into
account. For example, a medication may be registered in one
country and not in another, or approval may be pending, etc.

4. “The necessity for the Use of the otherwise Prohibited Substance or
Prohibited Method cannot be a consequence, wholly or in part, of
prior non-Therapeutic Use of any Substance from the Prohibited
List.” (Article 4.1 d. of the International Standard for TUEs.)

Once these guidelines were posted on Twitter the TUE option kind of went away. Some fanatics tried to post only some of the requirements but other fans posted all four.

So what conclusions are to be drawn?

Ms Sharapova's lawyer John Haggerty did an interview with Simon Cambers of The Guardian newspaper where he appears to walk back several of the talking points that had been put to the public. The following is from that interview linked above.

Q) Did she put meldonium on those forms?
A) Maria never took meldonium, she took mildronate. I’m in the process … I’ve yet to review those forms so I can’t answer that question. I simply do not know.
Q) There has been talk that Maria could ask for a retrospective TUE (therapeutic use exemption). Has Maria asked for one, can she ask for one?
A) We’re evaluating all of Maria’s options and since the TUE process is confidential I’m not in a position to be able to comment either way in what she has or has not done in that regard.
Q) Is there a time limit on doing this?
A) I’m not aware of any timeframe with regard to submission of such a thing.
Q) Meldonium is not licensed in the US so there are questions about where Maria got it from, as individuals are banned from importing it into the US. Has the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) been in touch with you?
A) The FDA has not been in touch with me. It is an over-the-counter medicine that is readily available in a number of countries. Maria legally purchased it and obtained it and has been taking it per her doctor’s recommendations.
Q) So would she have been buying it outside of the US?
A) Given that goes into the medical records and out of respect for the ITF (International Tennis Federation) process, I’m not going to be able to respond to that.

Poor Lindsay Davenport. She's become collateral damage in this situation. She reported to Tennis Channel viewers what Haggerty said in that closed door invitation only meeting - that the forms submitted in Melbourne showed meldonium as one of the drugs she was taking. Sharapova's fans are still trying to say "but Lindsay said" but that doesn't wash since Sharapova's lawyer waffled when asked about it directly.

Saying that it was Mildronate and not meldonium is ridiculous since they're one and the same. Mildronate is the name it's sold to the public by. Meldonium is the active ingredient, the generic name much is the way "Advil" is the retail name for ibuprofen. I give credit to Cambers for asking where she got it from. His question provoked another non answer from Haggerty.

So back to those conclusions.

Ms Sharapova's people have been silent for a couple of days now. Again I'm writing this post so I haven't been able to check and see if anything new has been said by anyone associated with the case.

Tennis media has also gone pretty quiet. There really isn't much to say now is there? Chris Evert, with whom I've had many disagreements, did an interview with ESPN that is must see video. I think she sums things up better than anyone else has so far. As we all know she can't be called an apologist for any player other than Sharapova. In that she went along with the entire ESPN on air staff. Here is the link to her interview . It was after this that a lot of the reporting changed from rah-rah to taking a sober look at the facts.

While watching tennis yesterday in the middle of a match Mary Carillo and Lindsay Davenport started talking about if Maria Sharapova is required to give back the money she won at Melbourne it should be evenly distributed among the players she beat.

I will repeat what I said in my first post about this. All any of us can do is wait.

© Savannahs World 2016 All rights reserved.

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