Maria Sharapova’s racket manufacturer Head is looking to extend its contract with the Russian despite her positive drugs test at the Australian Open in January.
Head’s stance is in contrast to Sharapova’s other sponsors with Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche all seeking to distance themselves from the world No7 since she revealed she had tested positive for the banned substance meldonium.
Dick Pound the former head of Wada, said that Maria Sharapova was guilty of ‘wilful negligence’ for using meldonium. Photograph: Kerstin Joensson/AP
Meldonium was being widely used in tennis, says Wada’s Dick Pound
The company released a statement saying it was “proud” of its relationship with Sharapova and described her as “a role model and woman of integrity”.
It said: “Head is proud to stand behind Maria, now and into the future and we intend to extend her contract. We look forward to working with her and to announcing new sponsorships in the weeks and months ahead. Maria may have made a mistake but she has earned the benefit of the doubt and we are extending it to her.”
Head’s chairman and chief executive, Johan Eliasch, set out the reasons for standing by Sharapova, saying: “Although it is beyond doubt she tested positive for the use of a Wada [World Anti-Doping Agency] banned substance, the circumstantial evidence is equally beyond doubt the continued use of meldonium after Jan 1st, 2016 in the dosages she had been recommended, which were significantly short of performance-enhancing levels, was a manifest error by Maria.
“In the absence of any evidence of any intent by Maria of enhancing her performance or trying to gain an unfair advantage through the use of mildronate, we further conclude this falls into the category of ‘honest’ mistakes.”
“We also know that for more than a decade, Maria Sharapova has been a role model and woman of integrity who has inspired millions of fans around the world to play and watch tennis. We look forward to many more years of working with Maria.”