Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Sharapova's proactive press conference was a stroke of genius!

When Maria Sharapova announced a press conference, it was widely believed that she will be retiring from Lawn Tennis for good. And there were strong reasons to believe so. Sharapova has had her share of injuries and illness and as a result, was not in the 'pink' of health and form. The world's highest earning women athlete for the past 11 years will finally call it quits. But that's not what happened right? She dropped a bombshell! And left the whole Tennis fraternity and fans reeling in shock.
Maria Sharapova press conference Meldonium drug

In the press conference, Sharapova informed the world that she has failed a drug test at this years' Australian Open. The drug in question was Meldonium, which is a blood-flow promoting drug and helps to relieve chest pain. It can be used to enhance endurance and strength (something you need in abundance if you are playing a high paced 3-setter long match every alternate day). She also said she's being having the drug for the past 10 years now. Now here's the most interesting part - WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) has included Meldonium among the list of banned drugs starting Jan 1st 2016. That's this year onwards. Which means, Sharapova was legally having the drug till the end of Dec 31st 2015. She probably had it once or a handful of times in 2016 since Australian Open commenced on 18th January . Because of this shocking admission, she now stands to lose her endorsements (ones who ensured she remain the highest paid woman athlete for all these years). She also stands to be suspended which means she won't be playing Tennis, her passion and her secondary source of income, for a considerable amount of time. How life changes in a matter of days!

What surprised me even more was the press conference itself. I mean, if a player tests positive for a banned drug, the agency will come forward and release the statement to the media. The media will do their stuff and spread the news. That's how it works. The player will get a lot of negative publicity from press and fans alike. Brands will cancel the contracts. Many fellow players will condemn, some bold ones will sympathize. Fans will lose faith in the player and the sport, in general. This will continue till the player reveals all and apologized to everyone in a moving press conference. By that time, the damage has already been done. The player then goes away from the limelight and waits for the suspension to get over. Sharapova was 'proactive' to reveal a lot of information before it was publicly released by the concerned authorities. Many have called her move as bold, honest, transparent, straight-forward and courageous. I largely agree with these adjectives. But think about it, wasn't it a stroke of genius from her team of PR strategists. By doing what she did, they have ensured that she doesn't lose the fanbase the way she would have lost otherwise. Brands will still evade her. A relatively larger section of her colleagues will now support her (like the way Serena Williams did). The press will be relatively less negative. Her team have actually started the damage control exercise even before the damage was done. If a person you admire / respect, comes forward and admits in larger audience the mistake he/she has committed and also accepts whatever punishment is given, you tend to have a sense of sympathy and support towards that person. It's just a natural human response. If my understanding of the situation is correct, this press conference was simply a masterstroke!

Don't get me wrong. I am not underplaying the honesty and courage angle, but I am not overplaying it either. Let's call a spade, a spade. She made a mistake, she admitted it and she will be punished as per the rules of the game. If its proved that she was ignorant about the drug and that it was banned, the punishment will be less severe - which is what Sharapova will be hoping for. The fact the the drug was banned most recently will also go in her favor. By laying the facts, including the recent banning of the said drug, she has strengthened her case of enduring a less severe punishment. This strategy is not illegal, it's not against the rules, it was simply damage control before the damage was done.

PS: I am a big fan of Maria Sharapova (who isn't?). I will continue to be one. I genuinely believe she has shown a lot of courage (whatever the behind-the-scene strategy may be, if at all there is one). I also believe she will make a grand comeback post suspension, make a statement and retire with her head held high. I really do.


  1. That takes a lot of strength ! I respect her decision to clear her side in such a situation.

    1. I think she is not only clearing the situation but also easing her way into a least possible suspension.. Either ways, my respect too!

  2. Exactly my thoughts! We live in cruel times where every person (including celebs) is a walking target and incidents like these can totally break a person and everything they have achieved in their lifetime. The only way beasts like these can be controlled-to some extent-is by being proactive which is what her team did. Loved the way you explained it. No need of hero worship,no need of devilish name calling either :)


All yours..

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