Everyone who reads this blog knows where I stand on the Sharapova ban issue: I have yet to see meaningful evidence for meldonium to be a banned substance, and I find it beyond suspicious that a multitude of athletes took it, but in the end, Sharapova was the lone villain. But considering her role in the whole nasty affair, I thought a six-month ban would have been appropriate.
But WADA gave Sharapova two years, which brought up bad memories of Martina Hingis (who received a two-year ban for allegedly ingesting a non-performance-enhancing substance). When all of the evidence (and lack of evidence) are looked at together, two years seems very harsh.
What I'm about to say isn't about how guilty or not guilty Sharapova was. It's about the culture of envy, contempt and group-think that permitted the president of WADA, Craig Reedie, to publicly express a sentiment that was, at the very least, shockingly tasteless. At worst, it added more than a tinge of suspicion to the decision to give Sharapova such a lengthy ban.
In case you've forgotten (or you missed it, since the media couldn't make it go away fast enough), Reedie's post-decision comment was: "For me the only satisfactory element in Madame Sharapova's case was that
in one year she can earn more money than the whole of Wada's budget put
Sharapova's attorney called the statement "unprofessional" (you think?) and asked for an apology. It would have been absolutely appropriate for her attorney to call for more than an apology, i.e., an investigation, but that would have wound up hurting his client, so it was out of the question. In a reasonably sane world, this is when the media would have stepped in and suggested the possibility of a link between Reedie's obvious contempt for Sharapova and the fact that WADA gave her an especially harsh penalty.
But the sports (and general news, for that matter) media--which is generally prone to blathering on even if there's nothing relevant or intelligent to be said--was so silent, you could have conducted a church ritual. Why?
I can only speculate, of course, but "fear of WADA" comes to mind as one reason. WADA has made several questionable (and erroneous) decisions over the years, and the press has remained silent or relatively silent about all of them. It isn't hard to infer that the one institution that is supposed to be able to take on anyone is afraid to challenge WADA.
Another reason--a worse one--is that through its silence, the media was in (at least unconscious) agreement that Sharapova's wealth makes her an easy hate target. Social media was strangely silent about the matter, too.
And there's always the possibility--unfortunately, a strong one--that our culture of ignoring injustice if we dislike the victim may have been at play. If you "hate" Sharapova (and I seriously doubt you know her, much less have even met her), or if you are outraged by how she handled the meldonium situation--that has nothing to do with the fact that Reedie's statement was very inappropriate, and quite possibly a clue that WADA did not act impartially.
The fact that Reedie knew he could safely make the statement in public, sadly, says everything (unless he is very stupid, which I doubt). And I can't help but wonder whether he would have made the same contemptuous statement had the subject been Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal. Maybe, but my gut says no.