International Tennis Federation rejects Sharapova suggestions that they wanted to make an example of her

"The ITF did not try to ban Ms. Sharapova for four years, as has been suggested"

International Tennis Federation rejects Sharapova suggestions that they wanted to make an example of her

Image: Damian Dovarganes / AP/Press Association Images

The International Tennis Federation has rejected Maria Sharapova's claims that it wanted to make an example of her.

She has said the panel that handed her an initial two-year ban for failing a drugs test wasn't neutral.

The ITF says Sharapova's legal team agreed to the appointments.

The Russian's suspension has been reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which means she can play again in April.

In a statement the ITF said: "The ITF, as the administrator of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme on behalf of all of tennis’s governing bodies, wishes to respond to statements made in relation to the anti-doping rule violation committed by Maria Sharapova.

"The ITF did not try to ban Ms. Sharapova for four years, as has been suggested. The ITF stated clearly that it was the responsibility of the Independent Tribunal - and subsequently the CAS Panel - to determine what the appropriate sanction should be. This included the decision as to whether Ms. Sharapova met the requirements set out in the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme – which are the same as those in the WADA Code – for a reduction from the default four-year suspension for the use of a non-specified substance such as meldonium. The CAS Panel confirmed Ms. Sharapova’s violation of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme and a 15-month suspension.

"The ITF provides a high-quality ‘first instance’ hearing system that is not only independent of the ITF, but also gives both parties full opportunity to present all of their evidence. The members of the Tribunal, which consisted of a barrister as Chairman and medical and scientific experts as co-members, issued a reasoned decision based on that evidence. Ms. Sharapova has stated that the Independent Tribunal was ‘not neutral’. Ms. Sharapova’s legal team was given the opportunity to object to the appointment of any member of that Tribunal in advance of the hearing, and they agreed in writing that they had no such objection.

"It has also been suggested that the ITF should have given specific notice to Eastern European athletes relating to the change in status of meldonium, because it was in common use by those athletes, and that this was known by the ITF prior to 2016. This is not true. In fact, it was accepted by Ms. Sharapova in the hearing before CAS that the ITF did not know before 2016 about the extent to which meldonium was used by athletes from any region, or that Ms. Sharapova herself was using meldonium.

"In addition to Ms. Sharapova’s failure to declare her use of meldonium on any of her doping control forms, the WADA monitoring program is conducted anonymously, so even WADA itself does not know the names of athletes using the substances being monitored. Furthermore, WADA does not inform any anti-doping organisation about the prevalence of such use until it publishes the results of the monitoring program, which for the 2015 monitoring program was in May 2016.

"The ITF believes that the appropriate steps were taken to publicise the changes to the 2016 Prohibited List. Nonetheless, the ITF has reviewed, and will continue to review, its processes for communicating changes to the Prohibited List to players with the aim of ensuring that no player can claim that they had not been fully informed."