FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, file photo, Russia's Maria Sharapova reacts during the Fed Cup tennis match between Russia and Netherlands in Moscow, Russia. The five-time major champion says she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January for the little-known drug, which became a banned substance under the WADA code this year. The former world No. 1 took full responsibility for her mistake when she made the announcement at a news conference Monday, March 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)
FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, file photo, Russia's Maria Sharapova reacts during the Fed Cup tennis match between Russia and Netherlands in Moscow, Russia. The five-time major champion says she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January for the little-known drug, which became a banned substance under the WADA code this year. The former world No. 1 took full responsibility for her mistake when she made the announcement at a news conference Monday, March 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File) Ivan Sekretarev

BEHIND THE DESK: Should Maria Sharapova be banned?

BEHIND THE DESK: Should Maria Sharapova be banned for failing a doping test for banned substance meldonium?

>> RELATED: Sharapova admits she failed drug test at Australian Open

BILL NORTH - Original screamer should be pardoned for inadvertent drugs howler

I DON'T want to excuse Maria Sharapova's meldonium 'oversight', but let's face it, she's committed a far more heinous crime - over and over and over again.

Women's tennis has not been the same since Sharapova entered the arena as a 16-year-old with one unmistakable trait - a piercing scream which was once recorded at 101 decibels during a match at Wimbledon in 2005.

'Grunting' has become common practice, with top players Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams in on the vocal theatrics.

In comparison, not realising an innocuous little pill she had taken for 10 years had been added to the banned substance list is pretty excusable.

Following protocol, Sharapova should be suspended for her drugs misdemeanour and deal with losing out on her major sponsors such as Nike and Porsche. But not the maximum penalty of a four year ban (unless found guilty of deliberately putting off opponents) and she should not be stripped of titles.

One could hardly expect the full time professional athlete to casually flick through the latest 'banned substance' list in the change rooms between commitments. Point the finger at her management team in that department.

The whole situation does have a fishy Russian smell - a study found 724 out of 4,316 athletes in that country (17%) had meldonium in their systems - and she might well be on a nationwide bandwagon of playing a cat and mouse game with science.

So slap her with six months, which would ban her from the Olympics - along with Russia's athletics team - and be done with it.

After her public confession the worst thing authorities can do is come down with an iron fist, as it would set a dangerous precedent to deter any other athlete coming clean and instead hiding in a cloak of secrecy and denial.

However, don't hold your breath. Judging on the WADA's handling of similarly 'innocent' footy players in the Essendon supplements scandal - which also featured a recently banned substance - expect the heavy hand to come down like a ton of bricks.

DAVE MOASE - Hard to believe Sharapova's positive test is all just a mistake

MARIA Sharapova, like the professional athlete she is, made the perfect start to her public relations campaign this week.

She was on the front foot in admitting to her positive drug test and put forward a reasonable sounding explanation.

Further analysis, however, makes it easy to have doubts about Sharapova's story, to the point where I feel pretty certain she has been caught cheating.

For a fit athlete, meldonium seems an unlikely drug to prescribe over a period of 10 years.

A family tendency to diabetes also seems a strange thing to concern a tall, slim, athletic specimen like Sharapova. That she was getting some competitive advantage from the meldonium seems far more plausible.

The figures in Bill North's article above tell the story. The drug was found in the test results of 17% of Russian athletes, compared to 2.2% of the worldwide population of athletes.

Clearly the Russians, already facing serious questions about their anti-doping practices, thought they had hit upon something that would benefit their athletes.

That is why the drug was banned from January 1 this year.

Sharapova should have known, and probably did know, meldonium was banned.

She said at her press conference she would cop the consequences and that should be a lengthy suspension - 12-24 months would be about right.



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