Explaining on Monday how she tested positive for the recently banned substance meldonium, Maria Sharapova admitted that she received an email from the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) in December that contained changes in its prohibited list. The list included meldonium.
“I did not look at that list,” said Sharapova, who has been taking the substance since 2006.
The former Wada president Dick Pound called out her "willful negligence," saying to BBC Sport that she was "reckless beyond description" for failing to heed the prohibition. But Sharapova is not the only player paying little mind to messages from the anti-doping agency. Many players and coaches at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells this week conceded that they, too, do not thoroughly read emails from Wada.
"No one clicks that link," said Jiri Fencl, a Czech coach.
Some dismissed the messages as irrelevant to their own regimens or too complicated to be useful; others said that they trusted someone in their inner circle would be keeping tabs on their behalf.
"I just have my vitamins, so I don't really have to check it," ninth-ranked Petra Kvitova said. "So I'm not really reading that."
Third-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska also said she did not personally read the emails she receives from Wada.
“To be honest, I’m also not really checking those emails,” she said. “That’s what my doctor is doing, and my agent.”
Richard Gasquet had his own experience with a drug violation when he tested positive for cocaine in 2009, but was able to reduce his suspension to 2½ months by successfully arguing that he might have picked up the substance from a kiss.
“You can imagine, after my story, I’m very, very careful,” he said. “I have my doctor, everything. Every time when I take an aspirin or something, I call him, I show him the pictures of the aspirin, everything.”
But even Gasquet, who called the year of his positive test the toughest of his life, said he did not read the emails he receives from Wada.
“I don’t read so much, because the only thing I take is sometimes some aspirin,” he said. “I don’t take vitamins. I take anti-inflammatories. So it’s okay. But when I have something to do, of course I call the doctor. I know there is a list, every year you need to read it, but I don’t read so much.”
Many players said they researched products they were considering taking for the first time. Eighth-ranked Belinda Bencic, 18, professed paying steadfast attention to all related emails she receives and any labels she encounters.
“If I go to a normal pharmacy or doctor, I always watch what’s in there,” she said. “My mom, especially, is always like, ‘Check it, check it!’”
Fourth-ranked Stan Wawrinka said: "I don't read what they change on the list, because I don't take anything. But if I have to take a medicine, I will check if it's on the list or not, and then I will ask my doctor if it's on the list or not."
Rafael Nadal, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, puts his full trust in a doctor when it comes to Wada's prohibited list.
“To be honest, I never read it,” Nadal said of the emails. “I have my doctor that I have confidence in. My doctor is the doctor of the Spanish tennis federation, with a lot of years as a doctor for all the Spanish tennis players, so for sure I have full confidence in him, and I never take nothing that he doesn’t know.”
Nadal said he understood how Sharapova could have been let down by a support staff that failed to notice the change in rules.
“If you believe in your team, and the team is not enough professional, that can happen,” he said.
Still, Nadal said Sharapova’s case would not cause him to take a more vigilant role in such matters for himself. “You cannot live thinking about all the negative things that can happen,” he said. “I am 100 per cent confident with my team. At the same time, I know all the things that I am taking.
“I want to believe that it’s a mistake for Maria, she didn’t want to do it. But it’s obvious that it’s a negligence. The rules are like this, and it’s fair.”
Serena Williams said she read the emails herself, while also knowing that others on her support staff would be reading them as well.
“I have people on my team that look at it; I also look at it,” Williams said. “In case I miss something, I think it’s important to have a good team around you. But I think it’s important, also, to read through it.”
Andy Murray said he checks with a doctor at the Lawn Tennis Association, the sport's governing body in Britain, if he has specific questions for his doctor.
“I get him to check first,” said Murray. “He’s obviously more knowledgeable than me about that stuff, but it’s quite easy to check yourself.”
Fourth-ranked Garbine Muguruza said she had trouble understanding the medical jargon used in Wada documents, so she relied on those around her.
“For us, it’s not easy for us to understand all those weird names,” Muguruza said. “So, yeah, my team checks it every time I need to take something, or every time they update it, but if I check it, I will not understand most of the things.”
No one interviewed could recall an experience comparable to Sharapova’s, in which a long-time legal medication they took was banned.
Scott Clark, a Chicago-based doctor who works with four American players on the ATP Tour, said he "wouldn't typically" check continually on a substance that a player had already been taking for a while.
“The list we get is difficult to read and comprehend, even as a doctor,” Clark said. “And they, Wada, seem to always leave a way out. If these guys are interested in a supplement, I send it in through the channels to get it approved. But always at the end, there’s a Wada disclaimer: Take it at your own risk.”
(New York Times service)