Nike to continue sponsoring Sharapova despite two-year doping ban

Melbourne: Maria Sharapova has received an unexpected boost when sportswear giant Nike declared that it ‘will continue to partner’ with the beleaguered Russian tennis star despite her two-year suspension for failing a drug test at this year’s Australian Open.

“The ITF tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules,” quoted Nike as saying. “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,” the sports firm added.

On Wednesday, the 29-year-old was punished by a three-member Tennis Anti-Doping Program tribunal appointed by the International Tennis Federation, which concluded she took meldonium ‘for the purpose of enhancing her performance.’

Earrlier, Nike had decided to sever its ties with the five-time Grand Slam champion pending the outcome of the investigation after Sharapova revealed that she had tested positive for the banned substance meldonium in January 26.

Meldonium was placed on the banned list by the World Anti-Doping Agency this year but the 2012 Olympic silver medallist said that she had been taking the drug since 2006 legally for years for health reasons.

Sharapova, who was overtaken by Serena Williams as the world’s highest earning sportswoman this week, had seen a slew of sponsors such as American Express, Porsche and TAG Heuer distancing themselves following her revelations. (ANI)