Andy Murray could ditch sponsors over principles

Andy Murray could be ready to part company with any sponsor who does not live up to his strict and principled stance against drug taking in sport.

Andy Murray on court in a practice session at Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images

The chief executive of Murray’s racket sponsor, Head, issued a statement on Friday criticising the World Anti Doping Agency for putting meldonium on its list of banned substances at the start of the year. Meldonium was banned as of 1 January and less than a month later, Maria Sharapova – another Head client – tested positive for the substance at the Australian Open.

The Head chief, Johan Eliasch, wrote on the company’s website: “We question WADA’s decision to add meldonium to its banned substances list in the manner it did; we believe the correct action by WADA would have been to impose a dosage limitation only. In the circumstances we would encourage WADA to release scientific studies which validates their claim that meldonium should be a banned substance.”

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By Friday evening Murray had not seen the statement, but on Thursday he had criticised the company for rushing to support Sharapova. He has had no comeback from Head about his earlier comments – he said then: “I personally wouldn’t have responded like that.” But he was willing to admit that should any company take a stance on an important issue, such as drugs in sport, that he disagreed with, he would consider distancing himself from that organisation. “I guess that’s possible,” he said. “I haven’t thought about that yet but it’s possible.”

Former WADA president Dick Pound feels Head’s stance shows a “lack of knowledge” of the substance. He told BBC Radio 5 live: “First and foremost, Head is a manufacturer and seller of tennis rackets, among other things

“So far as I’m aware, it’s not a medical expert and not in a position to amend the world anti-doping code. As for its view as a commercial racket seller as to whether meldonium should be on the list of prohibited substances or not, quite frankly I prefer the scientific opinion of medical experts to the commercial interest of somebody selling tennis rackets using a player who is subject to whatever discipline is called for under the world anti-doping code”

Sharapova, meanwhile, says she is “determined to fight back” against what she deems misreporting after denying she missed five warnings that meldonium was becoming a banned drug. The Russian tested positive for it after her quarter-final defeat to Serena Williams at the Australian Open. The International Tennis Federation and WTA alerted players five times in December to the banned list for 2016. In her press conference last Monday, Sharapova only mentioned failing to click on an email link to the documents on 22 December. And she insisted the other missed opportunities were not ones she could necessarily have been expected to take, posting a picture of a complicated “wallet card” detailing banned substances. The 28-year-old wrote: “This document had thousands of words on it, many of them technical, in small print. Should I have studied it? Yes. But if you saw this document, you would know what I mean. I make no excuses for not knowing about the ban. I already told you about the December 22, 2015 email I received. Its subject line was ‘Main Changes to the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme for 2016’. I should have paid more attention to it.

“But the other ‘communications’? They were buried in newsletters, websites, or handouts.”

As an example, Sharapova cited an email on 18 December that would have required clicking through a number of links to find the information. However, this email was not one of the five warnings cited by the ITF and WTA.

Sharapova, who knew the drug as mildronate, also addressed comments from the drug manufacturer that it was only designed to be taken in courses of between four and six weeks. That has been cited by some as suspicious given the Russian said she had been taking it, as prescribed by her doctor, for ten years.

But she indicated she had only used it intermittently, in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines, saying: “I didn’t take the medicine every day. I took it the way my doctor recommended I take it and I took it in the low doses recommended.”