Some of Maria Sharapova's biggest sponsors are saying they will stick with her despite her 2-year tennis ban

Maria SharapovaKevork Djansezian/GettyMaria Sharapova.

Two of Maria Sharapova’s biggest sponsors are saying that they will stick with her, despite the Russian athlete being handed a two-year ban from the sport on Wednesday for failing a drugs test earlier this year.

Significantly, Nike, which initially suspended its estimated $12.5 million-a-year contract with Sharapova when she admitted in March she tested positive for banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open, has now come out in support of the tennis champ.

In a statement given to The Evening Standard, Nike said: “The ITF [International Tennis Federation] Tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules. Maria has always made her position clear, has apologised for her mistake and is now appealing the length of the ban. Based on the decision of the ITF and their factual findings, we hope to see Maria back on court and will continue to partner with her.”

Sharapova’s racket sponsor Head has always said it would continue its deal, despite her admission that she had taken the recently banned substance.

In a lengthy statement sent to Business Insider, Head chairman Johan Eliasach criticised the ITF’s decision, which he said was based on a “flawed process” undertaken by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Other big sponsorship deals are still up in the air

However, some of Sharapova’s other sponsors are postponing their deals with the five-time Grand Slam champion.

Watchmaker Tag Heuer, which said earlier this year it would not renew its deal with Sharapova, told Business Insider it would not be signing another contract with the athlete any time soon.

Jean-Claude Biver, Tag Heuer CEO, said: “We now have some time and as she is suspended for two years we are not in a hurry anymore to sign a new contract today or this month. We will see later what we are going to do.

Sorry, but cannot say anything more for the time being.”

Porsche, which announced in March it was suspending its deal with Sharapova, was not immediately available for comment.

Avon and Evian, which have yet to make any statement so far about their relationships with Sharapova, were also not immediately available for comment.

The ITF announced Wednesday Sharapova’s two-year ban would commence from January 26, the day she failed a test for meldonium at the Australian Open. The tribunal found that she had not intentionally broken anti-doping rules but she bore responsibility for not noticing the drug had recently been added to its banned substances list. The tribunal also found she “concealed” her use of the drug from anti-doping authorities.

Sharapova said she had been taking meldonium since 2006 because of a variety of health concerns, including the possibility she may have diabetes because it runs in her family.

The drug is used to treat cardiac issues and can increase endurance, according to the Independent. WADA added meldonium to its list of banned substances at the start of 2016, but Sharapova said she failed to read the update.

Sharapova says she plans to appeal the ITF’s decision, The Guardian reported.

Head chairman Johan Eliasch’s statement in full:

In response to the ITF Tribunal decision today to ban Maria Sharapova for 2 years for the unintentional usage of a banned substance, I would like to clarify our position. Based upon the evidence provided by Miss Sharapova, WADA and by Dr Don Catlin, the Chief Science Officer of the Banned Substances Control Group, it appears that the ITF have made their decision based upon a flawed process undertaken by WADA that clearly highlights how WADA have broken their own rules in determining whether or not Meldonium should be banned.

Using WADA’s decision rubric, WADA’s decision to ban Meldonium is not based upon extensive clinical testing that underlines Meldonium’s performance enhancing benefits. There are a limited amount of scientific studies that point to Meldonium’s cardioprotective and anti- ischaemic properties but nothing that correlates Meldonium as a performance enhancing drug. There are also no published studies that indicate that using Meldonium is detrimental to the health of an athlete. This indicates that WADA banned Meldonium without fulfilling their first two rules. The only condition that could potentially be argued in favour of WADA’s rules is that the prevalence of Meldonium use amongst certain groups of athletes violated the spirit of sport. This is subject to interpretation and if deemed correct would only fulfil a single rule. In order for a product to be banned it must fulfil two rules.

Without necessary and extensive clinical testing that highlights either Meldonium’s performance enhancing benefits or evidence of it being detrimental to athletes, it is evident that WADA banned Meldonium based upon the amount of athletes using Meldonium rather than any scientific evidence. WADA have a responsibility to make decisions based upon scientific inquiry rather than prevalence of use and most importantly must fulfil their own rules when making such decisions.

We believe, based on the facts and circumstances provided to us, that this is a flawed decision. HEAD will continue to stand by Miss Sharapova.

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