Sharapova may have played a blinder but it is tennis that needs to get a grip

About this time last week Maria Sharapova was still the best-paid sportswoman on the planet, with lucrative sponsorship deals with Nike, Evian and Tag Heuer. She was a role model for clean-living professionalism.

As I write today she is… well, a crisis management case study. International tennis, in the meantime, is suffering a PR crisis of its own – because it has failed where Sharapova succeeded; in leading the agenda.

Sharapova held a by-now-infamous press conference last Monday at an LA hotel (with the ‘ugly carpet’) in which she was able to announce her failed drug test and yet protest her essentially good character.

Over the past week PR experts have lined up to express their admiration at how well Sharapova managed the news. 

Her organisation of the press conference in advance prompted many to expect an announcement of her retirement, so she was able to allay those fears and give her side of the story to a hungry media pack.

Miguel Piedra of Miami-based RockOrange gushed: "Her forthrightness is a case study in proper reputation management. It’s a stunningly bold and mature handling of the crisis, especially considering her youth."

Indeed she handled it so well than some sponsors, such as Head, reconfirmed their support for her, even extending its racquet contract and describing "Maria" as "courageous". 

And this is despite the fact that she could still receive a four-year ban from the sport, which would take her past 32 years of age.

Her sport, however, is having a torrid time. 

With serious match-fixing allegations earlier this year, and now doping – Rafa Nadal is considering suing a French politician who suggested he might also have doped – there are growing question marks over a game that has been experiencing a golden age ever since the great Roger Federer sprung on to the scene.

But the big question for me – as both a media journalist and a tennis fan – is why it wasn’t the International Tennis Federation that announced Sharapova had failed a drugs test. It was left to her to break the story and manage the media. 

Surely if tennis wants to take the front foot in telling a wholesome story it should seize the initiative and control the agenda.

On the contrary the ITF – which holds the power to ban Sharapova – hardly commented even following the Russian’s dramatic ‘mea culpa’ last Monday. Instead it was left to fellow professional Andy Murray to take a strong line in condemning doping. 

Murray said: "It’s not up to me to decide the punishment, but if you’re taking performance-enhancing drugs and you fail a drugs test, you have to get suspended." 

He questioned Head’s decision to back Sharapova and encouraged tennis to get a grip on these critical ethical issues.

Quite.

Danny Rogers is editor-in-chief of the Brand Republic Group

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