After news hit on Wednesday that Maria Sharapova had been banned for two years by the International Tennis Federation for testing positive for the banned drug meldonium, all eyes were on Nike — her biggest sponsor — and the company’s next move.
When the career Grand Slam champion announced in March that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January, Nike suspended its contract with Sharapova hours later. At the time, Nike released a statement saying it would suspend its relationship with Sharapova “while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation.”
Despite the ban, which Sharapova says she will appeal, Nike will ultimately continue to support its athlete. “The ITF tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules,” the athletic giant said in a statement. “Maria has always made her position clear, has apologized 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.”
The Russian tennis star has been with Nike for more than 10 years, and in 2010, she extended the contract by eight years for a whopping $70 million — making her the highest-paid female athlete. With sponsors pulling out in recent months, Sharapova fell to second on the Forbes list. Serena Williams is the current highest-paid female athlete in the world, ending Sharapova’s 11-year run.
In a statement posted to her Facebook account, Sharapova called the ban “unfairly harsh” and said she was going to immediately appeal.
“The tribunal, whose members were selected by the [International Tennis Federation], agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years,” Sharapova said. “I intend to stand for what I believe is right, and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.”