Even as Nike, TAG Heuer and Porsche suspended their commercial ties with Maria Sharapova immediately after she admitted on Monday that she tested positive for the recently prohibited drug meldonium (also known as mildronate) at the Australian Open, Johan Eliasch, CEO of Head NV (racket maker) based in Austria has backed her.
He told Associated Press that she made a “manifest error” by continuing to take meldonium even after it was banned on January 1, 2016 but added that there is “no evidence of any intent by Maria of enhancing her performance or trying to gain an unfair advantage.”
He told Associated Press that his company is “proud to stand behind Maria, now and into the future.” “We intend to extend her contract. We look forward to working with her and to announcing new sponsorships,” he told AP.
The simple reason why he has decided to back her at her time of crisis might be her continued connect with a large section of people across the world. Even at the darkest time of her career, her post on Wednesday on Facebook had 15.3 million likes and nearly 6,000 shares.
Many of tennis players including Marina Navratilova have come in support of her. Navratilova tweeted: “Sharapova announces that she failed doping test, – hope this gets cleared up as it seems 2 me to be an honest mistake”.
While many may wonder if the continued backing by Head despite Sharapova not being clean in sports is ethical or not, as far as the company is concerned it apparently makes perfect business sense.
In her first message to her fans after admitting to have tested positive to meldonium she wrote: “I woke up yesterday morning with an inbox, in full capacity of love and compassion.
“The first email I immediately opened was from my best friend, you know, the type of person who can make you smile and cry with only one word and who I spent the evening on the phone with, checking up on me, how was I doing?
“On average, I love the mornings. New day, new start. It is fair to say that this day was not average. Nothing came to mind at 6 am, except that I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so. I wish I didn’t have to go through this, but I do – and I will.
“I needed to sweat, to push through and grind as I have done most of my life, so I made my way to the gym. That’s when I realized a bunch of tinted windowed cars were following me. The good old paparazzi, back on the trail.
“I have not been online much except the odd search for a new antique coffee table (random, I know), but my friends made a collage for me with all your beautiful messages and hashtags that you created (#IStandWithMaria and #LetMariaPlay). I spent the afternoon reading them next to my dog, who couldn’t quite understand why this was more important than the walk he was expecting to take.
“In this moment, I am so proud to call you my fans. Within hours of my announcement, you showed me support and loyalty, which I could only expect to hear when someone would be at the top of their profession.
“I wanted to let you know that your wonderful words put a smile on my face. I’d like to play again and hope to have the chance to do so. Your messages give me great encouragement. This message isn’t anything else but to say thank you. Thank you very much.”