Game, set and match for brand Sharapova? Sporting history says maybe not

Maria Sharapova sent shockwaves through the sporting world after revealing she had failed a drugs test at the Australian Open. What now for the tennis superstar? We look at what happened to five other global sports stars after doping indiscretions.

Managed by global sports agency IMG, the five-time grand slam champion was quickly advised to arrange a press conference to retain control of the situation. The decision to tackle the problem head on and the execution was welcomed by PR professionals who praised it as "a textbook method of controlling bad news".

In contrast, reaction from those within the tennis world was mixed:

Sharapova is not the first high-profile athlete to fail a drugs test. Below we take a look at what happened to five global superstars to gain insight into how this doping scandal could play out:

1) Martina Hingis

After testing positive for cocaine at the 2007 Wimbledon Championships, Hingis held an emotional press conference where she announced her retirement at the age of 27.

"I have no desire to spend the next several years of my life reduced to fighting against the doping officials. I am frustrated and angry. The fact is that it is more and more difficult for me, physically, to keep playing at the top of the game. And frankly, accusations such as these don't exactly provide me with motivation to even make another attempt to do so," Hingis said at the time.

After serving a two-year suspension, the former teenage prodigy returned to play in exhibition tournaments and had a stint coaching before announcing a comeback to the tour in 2013. Still active, Hingis has won three grand-slam doubles tournaments, has various sponsorship deals and even has her own clothing line Tonic, showing that it is possible to bounce back.

Outcome: Successful comeback

2) Lance Armstrong

After over a decade of denials, lawsuits against reporters and former staff members who tried to blow the whistle on doping within the sport, the man who put cycling on the map confessed to doping in an exclusive no-holds-barred interview with Oprah in January 2013.

Armstrong admitted to taking the banned substances, using blood doping and blood transfusions to improve his performance during all seven of his Tour de France title wins.

The decision to come clean had severe financial ramifications and further tarnished the reputation of cycling. Armstrong had already been abandoned by all sponsors, losing an estimated $75m (£45.5m) on the day when USADA stripped him of his titles.

He was erased from the record books and even stopped from taking part in triathlons. He is currently involved in numerous lawsuits including one where the US government is suing him on behalf of the US Postal Service, which paid $30m to sponsor Armstrong’s cycling team between 1998 and 2004.

Outcome: Legacy tarnished and ongoing court cases

3) Ben Johnson

One of the most infamous scandals in Olympic history occurred when Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson won the 100m at the Seoul Games in 1988, breaking the world record in the process.

However, days later Johnson turned from hero to villain after it was announced he had tested positive for the banned substance Stanozolol. Since then his name has forever been associated with cheating and he never challenged for Olympic gold again.

On the 25th anniversary of the disqualification, it was revealed 20 other athletes at the Seoul Games had tested positive for banned substances and there were suggestions of a cover-up by the IOC. However, this revelation came much to late to help Johnson.

Outcome: Career-ending infamy

4) Marion Jones

At the height of her success in 2000, Jones was one of the most beloved and well-known athletes on the planet. The track and field superstar was the first woman to win five medals at an Olympic Games in Sydney, three of which were gold.

Jones was dogged with allegations of steroid usage due to the dominant manner of her victories, particularly in the coveted 100m races.

After years of hearsay the founder of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, Victor Conte, admitted to providing Jones with steroids before, during and after the Sydney Olympics. Finally, in 2007, Jones admitted to lying to US federal agents about using drugs and was jailed for six months in 2008. All her results from September 2000 and beyond were wiped from the record books, compounding a spectacular fall from grace.

Outcome: Prison

5) Justin Gatlin

Currently one of the most controversial figures in the sporting world, Gatlin has served two bans for testing positive. He returned to track competition after serving a four-year ban for doping in 2010, but many legends of the sport past and present have criticised the decision to allow him to return.

Despite him claiming to have "never knowingly taken any banned substance", there was plenty of controversy in 2015 when Nike announced it would renew a sponsorship deal with him. 

Despite being a divisive figure, Gatlin is a prime example of a sports star who has served his time and worked his way back to the pinnacle of the sport. He has even embraced his role as a 'pantomime villain' and nearly caused a huge upset at the 2015 World Athletics Championships when he finished just 0.01 seconds behind Usain Bolt in the 100m final. 

Impact: Returned to competition but a divisive figure

What next for Sharapova?

Having built a marketing brand over the past decade, the tennis grand slam champion has endorsed everything from cars and watches to mineral water and make-up, and even launched her own brand of premium sweets dubbed ‘Sugapova’. These numerous sponsorship deals have generated in excess of £20m a year, helping Sharapova become the world’s highest paid female athlete. 

The fallout has already begun. Nike and luxury car maker Porsche have suspended lucrative contracts. Tag Heuer has gone one step further, deciding to terminate its relationship with Sharapova. Avon and Evian are monitoring the situation and could also end up pulling the plug.

At her press conference, the 28-year-old was adamant that she did not want to finish her career in this fashion but her sporting future hangs in the balance. Early indications suggest that she will have to serve a ban but should ultimately be able to return to the game, much like Hingis and Gatlin.

In a PRWeek straw poll, most PR professionals said they believed Sharapova would make a return to the game. However, a shadow will forever linger over her career, and in future sponsors will now have leverage when it comes to negotiating any future deals. Estimates suggest the error could see Sharapova lose up to £100m in potential earnings.

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