The CEO of Head, an Austrian sport brand, said Thursday that he did not believe Sharapova took meldonium in order to enhance her performance.
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Austrian tennis racket company Head announced Thursday that it would continue to sponsor Maria Sharapova, despite her admission on March 7 that she had failed a drug test and would temporarily halt her competition.
Head is the first of Sharapova’s major sponsors to continue to back her in light of her announcement.
The company’s CEO Johan Eliasch said in a statement that although Head has a “strict anti-doping policy,” their review of Sharapova’s case found that the doses she had taken of the drug meldonium “were significantly short of performance enhancing levels.”
Eliasch concluded that “this falls into the category of ‘honest mistakes,'” and cited Sharapova’s reputation over the past decade of being a role model and “woman of integrity who has inspired millions of fans around the world to watch and play tennis.”
Shortly after Sharapova said on Monday that she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open for her use of meldonium, Nike, Porsche, and watch brand TAG Heuer all announced that they had either suspended their contracts with her, or would not renew them.
In June 2014, cosmetic brand Avon named Sharapova the face of its Luck perfume line.
Avon declined comment to BuzzFeed News on their relationship with Sharapova.
Having earned a reported $29.5 million last year, the 28-year-old from Russia is the highest-paid female athlete in the world.
Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Jan. 26, 2016.
William West / Getty Images
She contended on Monday that she had unknowingly continued to take meldonium despite its January placement on the banned drug list.
Sharapova said that she had been prescribed the drug in 2006 to treat her flu-like symptoms, magnesium deficiency, irregular EKG results, and signs of early diabetes. Initially, the drug was designed to treat heart conditions.
She neglected to open an email in December announcing that it would be banned in January, and continued to take it.
“I’ve let my fans down, I let the sport down that I’ve been playing since the age of 4 that I love so deeply,” she said during her Monday press conference.
The repercussions for the failed drug test remain unclear, but they could affect her ability to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Eliasch cited Sharapova’s integrity in admitting to wrongdoing as a reason why his company would continue to sponsor her.
“The honesty and courage she displayed in announcing and acknowledging her mistake was admirable,” he said. “Maria may have made a mistake, but she has earned the benefit of the doubt and we are extending it to her.”
BuzzFeed News has reached out to Head representatives for more information.