This week it was announced top women’s tennis player Maria Sharapova had been banned from playing for the next two years after failing a drug test in January.
This has put the status of countless Sharapova endorsements into question, including her lucrative deal with Nike. In March, Nike temporarily suspended their relationship with the tennis star, who had tested positive for meldonium, a heart disease medication which has only been banned since Jan. 1 of this year.
On Thursday however, the footwear company announced it would stand by Sharapova despite the decision by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) to ban her. The Russian tennis star has said repeatedly that she did not intend to break ITF rules, something the ITF agrees with, although they said in their findings that Sharapova still held some degree of responsibility, and had been taking meldonium to enhance her performance. Sharapova has vowed to appeal the ITF’s ruling.
“The ITF Tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules,” Nike said in a statement. “Maria has always made her position clear, has apologized 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.”
Nike and Sharapova have enjoyed a long-standing relationship, dating back to when she was just 11 years old. In 2010, the tennis star signed an eight-year contract with the US sportswear giant worth a reported $70 million, including a cut of sales on her branded merchandise.