Maria Sharapova has been suspended for two years by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) after testing positive for banned drug meldonium.
The ITF made the announcement Wednesday, ending weeks of speculation about the future of the richest female athlete of the past decade.
Sharapova stunned the world in March when the five-time grand slam winner said in a Los Angeles press conference arranged by her entourage that she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open on January 26. She received a provisional ban on March 12.
In the wake of Wednesday’s verdict, Sharapova said she would appeal the verdict in a statement on her Facebook page.
Russia planned to include Sharapova on its Olympic tennis team but the suspension now rules out of August’s Rio Games.
The ITF and WADA can all appeal the verdict to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The 29-year-old claimed she had been taking meldonium since 2006 for heart issues, a magnesium deficiency and because her family has a history of diabetes.
Sharapova, who has continued to promote her candy company Sugarpova since being suspended, said she simply failed to read an email that stated meldonium would be added to the banned list on Jan. 1. It was an oversight, she said, adding that she knew the drug by its trade name Mildronate.
Meldonium isn’t approved for use in the U.S. — where Sharapova has lived since the age of seven — by the Food and Drug Administration.
It was added to the prohibited list “because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance,” WADA said on its website.
Boosting endurance and helping in the recovery process are potential benefits for athletes.
The Partnership for Clean Competition — which includes the NFL, MLB, U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S. Anti-Doping — said on its website last October that 182 or 2.2% of 8,300 urine samples collected from athletes contained Mildronate, which was then still legal.
“From an anti-doping perspective, the 2.2% rate in this study was concerning,” said Dr. Larry Bowers, chairperson of the PCC Scientific Board,
“This figure represents more than twice the overall rate of laboratory findings for a single drug than any of the substances on the Prohibited List.”