The Court of Arbitration for Sport has issued its decision on Maria Sharapova's appeal of her two-year suspension for an anti-doping violation incurred in January, reducing her suspension to 15 months. Sharapova will be allowed to return to the tour on April 26th, 2017.
How did Sharapova's case get to CAS?
In June, a three-member independent tribunal appointed by the ITF handed Sharapova a two-year suspension, back-dated to the date of Sharapova's first failed doping test in January at the Australian Open. The tribunal found that Sharapova's violation, wherein she tested positive for Meldonium, a substance that was banned on January 1st of this year, was unintentional but that she bore "significant fault" for failing to "put in place an adequate system to check for changes made each year to the Prohibited List."
In particular, the tribunal found Sharapova's decision to delegate to her agent the task of checking her medication against WADA's prohibited list unreasonable.
Said the tribunal:
"The contravention of the anti-doping rule was not intentional as Ms Sharapova did not appreciate that Mildronate contained a substance prohibited from 1 January 20I6.
"However she does bear sole responsibility for the contravention, and very significant fault, in failing to take any steps to check whether the continued use of this medicine was permissible. If she had not concealed her use of Mildronate from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the contravention would have been avoided. She is the sole author of her misfortune."
Under the tribunal's ruling, Sharapova was eligible to return on January 25th, 2018. Sharapova appealed the decision to CAS in June and the case was heard in September in New York.
What did CAS have to decide?
Sharapova requested that her suspension be reduced on the grounds that she bore "no significant fault" for her anti-doping violation. The ITF responded and requested the tribunal's decision be upheld.
Based on the governing code and prior precedent, the question before CAS was two-fold:
1. What was Sharapova's level of fault and, more specifically, did she bear "no significant fault" for her anti-doping violation?
2. If Sharapova bore no significant fault, meaning CAS could reduce her suspension at their discretion, what should that sanction be?
What does "no significant fault" mean?
According to the relevant code, "no significant fault" requires a player establish "that his/her Fault or negligence, when viewed in the totality of the circumstances and taking into account the criteria for No Fault or Negligence, was not significant in relationship to the AntiDoping Rule Violation."
4. Strong statement from CAS towards the end of the decision. pic.twitter.com/uxo8lXmsgk
? WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) October 4, 2016
What did CAS find?
A three-person independent panel disagreed with the tribunal's decision that Sharapova bore significant fault for her anti-doping violation. In coming to that conclusion, CAS ruled that Sharapova's delegation of duties to her agent and agency was reasonable and that his dereliction of that duty should not be imputed on her for the purposes of determining fault. The ITF argued that it was unreasonable to delegate the duty to someone who was untrained and unqualified to monitor her anti-doping responsibilities. CAS disagreed, finding her agent and agency qualified for the task.
As CAS explained:
"Checking a substance against the Prohibited List is not an action for which specific anti-doping training is required. It is expected to be made, as a rule and under Article 3.1.2 of the TADP, by the player personally, and a player does not need to have scientific or medical expertise for such purpose. No standard in the WADC or otherwise raises such a high bar.
"Therefore, the delegation to Mr. Eisenbud, an expert sports agent, aware of the importance of the services rendered to the Player, and whose livelihood was dependent on the athletic success of the Player, was not precluded by any lack of scientific or medical qualification, openly recognized by Mr. Eisenbud himself. In other words, the Player chose a sufficiently qualified person as her delegate for the purposes of checking the Prohibited List."
Monday fun day on court ? ? pic.twitter.com/MzJHyL8xmK
Having found Sharapova bore "no significant fault", CAS then turned to the question of whether her suspension should be reduced. Though she bore "no significant fault", CAS found she bore some degree of fault for failing to give adequate instruction or supervision over the process.
"The Player did not tell Mr. Eisenbud to check (and Mr. Eisenbud therefore did not check) whether Mildronate was only a "brand name" or indicated the ingredient of the product; she did not put him in touch with Dr. Skalny at the time she left the care of Dr. Skalny, but simply supplied Mr. Eisenbud with the names of the Skalny Products; she did not instruct Mr Eisenbud to consult the WADA, ITF or WTA website, to call the ITF "hot line", to open the flash drive supplied with the "wallet card", or even to read the emails received, opening the "links" therein contained. She simply passed the entire matter over to Mr Eisenbud, completely relying on him.
"In the same way, the Player did not establish any procedure to supervise and control the actions performed by Mr. Eisenbud in the discharge of the tasks he was expected to perform: no procedure for reporting or follow-up verification was established to make sure that Mr Eisenbud had actually discharged the duty, for instance, of checking year after year the Skalny Products towards the Prohibited List.
"Such circumstances show some degree of fault on the part of the Player, but they do not exclude altogether the possibility for the Player to invoke ["no significant fault"].
As a result, CAS looked at the totality of the circumstances and reduced Sharapova's ban by nine months.
Sundayzzz ? pic.twitter.com/FwX9ZM6XtX
When can Sharapova return to tour?*
The earliest date Sharapova can return to tour is April 26th, 2017. As outlined in the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) ruling issued on June 8, 2016, Sharapova is eligible to return to compete at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, which begins on April 24th. This is in compliance with the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme Rule 10.11.4, which states:
'Where an Event that will take place after the period of ineligibility has an entry deadline that falls during the period of Ineligibility, the Player may submit an application for entry in the Event in accordance with that deadline, notwithstanding that at the time of such application he/she is Ineligible.'
How will Sharapova compete on tour without a ranking?
Sharapova is currently ranked No.95 with 690 ranking points, all from the 2015 WTA Finals where she advanced to the semifinals. When she returns to the tour next year she will have zero points on her ranking, meaning she cannot gain direct entry into tour-level events.
However, as a former Grand Slam champion (and WTA Finals champion), by rule, she is allowed an unlimited number of wildcard nominations at WTA tour events. She can also build up her ranking on the ITF Circuit.
Are there any more appeals?
Barring a procedural error, CAS's decision in the case is final.
Finishing the weekend strong!! ???? pic.twitter.com/qnThLJ9XMs
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.
*EDITED: A previous version of this article stated Sharapova was not eligible to play Stuttgart.