Racquet Company Stands by Maria Sharapova, Extends Contract Amid Doping Scandal
By Rande Iaboni
While brands like Nike and TAG Heuer have suspended
endorsements with Maria Sharapova after she revealed she failed a drug test,
racquet manufacturer, HEAD, has announced plans to extend its contract with the
“Maria may have made a mistake, but she has earned the
benefit of the doubt,” HEAD CEO Johan Eliasch said in a statement to ET
Sharapova announced on Monday that she had failed a drug
test at the Australian Open, testing positive for banned substance meldonium.
The 2014 French Open champ and 2012 Olympic silver medalist claimed at her
press conference that she had simply made a mistake by continuing to take the
anti-ischemic drug Mildronate -- also known as meldonium -- after it was added
to the list of banned performance-enhancing drugs in January.
Following this admission, Sharapova’s endorsement deal with
Nike was suspended. The company telling ET in a statement, "We are
saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova. We have decided to
suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will
continue to monitor the situation."
In a statement to ET, Porsche has "chosen to postpone planned activities" with the tennis star, adding, "we have not suspended the contract with Maria, we just don't use her for any activities until we have more information."
Additionally, Swiss watch company TAG
Heuer said it has suspended negotiation talks to renew its marketing contract with Sharapova, which
expired at the end of 2015.
Eliasch also took the time to defend Sharapova, adding, “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.”
Sharapova has been under an exclusive contract with HEAD for
racquets, strings and grips since January 2011.
Eliasch went on to say that for more than a decade Sharapova
“has been a role model and woman of integrity who has inspired millions of fans
around the world to play and watch tennis. The honesty and courage she
displayed in announcing and acknowledging her mistake was admirable. HEAD is
proud to stand behind Maria, now and into the future and we intend to extend
“We look forward to many more years of working with Maria,”
the statement concluded.
Sharapova took the time on Wednesday to thank her fans on
Facebook for all of their support during this scandal.
"I woke up yesterday morning with an inbox, in full
capacity of love and compassion," the 28-year-old Russian tennis star
wrote. "On average, I love the mornings. New day, new start. It is fair to
say that this day was not average. Nothing came to mind at 6am, except that I
am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so.
I wish I didn't have to go through this, but I do - and I will."
Sharapova was notified of her failed drug test on March 2
and is waiting to hear what the penalty to her career will be. According to
Forbes, she earned $29.5 million in 2015.