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The highest-earning female athlete in the world admitted she failed a drug test for a banned performance enhancing substance. Maria Sharapova announced on Monday she tested positive for meldonium at January's Australian Open.
So what in the world is meldonium? How long will Sharapova be suspended, if at all? And what does that mean for her sponsorships, which have paid her in the neighborhood of $200 million?
Sharapova didn't just admit to failing one drug test -- the tennis star said she had been taking meldonium for the last ten years to treat a magnesium deficiency and irregular EKG results. Which was fine, since the substance wasn't placed on the World Anti-Doping Agency's List of Prohibited Substances and Materials until this year. The drug is known to increase athletic performance by boosting blood flow, and can also aid rehabilitation, recovery, and endurance.
Sharapova admitted to checking for meldonium on previous banned substances lists, but says she failed to check the updated list this year:
"I received a letter on Dec. 22 from WADA, an email with changes happening for next year as well as reporting your whereabouts and a link to a button where you can press to see the prohibited items for 2016. I did not look at that list."
No punishment has been announced yet, but the New York Times points out that players can be barred for up to four years for a first offense for intentionally ingesting a performance-enhancing substance, and two years for unintentional use. Sharapova will likely argue that she needed meldonium to treat a medical condition, and she was unaware of the ban.
The lack of a ruling from the International Tennis Federation hasn't stopped Sharapova's sponsors from severing ties with the star. Reuters is reporting that Nike, Porsche, and TAG Heuer have already cut ties with Sharapova, just 24 hours after news of the failed drug test broke. Sharapova made $29.7 million last year, the bulk coming off the court, from endorsements, appearances, and royalties.
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