Head Stays Loyal to Sharapova After Other Sponsors Suspend Deals

  • Racket supplier says it will extend agreement with Sharapova
  • Nike, TAG Heuer and Porsche have all backed away from athlete

Maria Sharapova’s equipment supplier Head issued a rare sign of support to the under-fire tennis star, saying it accepted her excuse for failing a drug test and would extend its endorsement contract with her.

Head said Thursday that it had analyzed the facts closely and while it was beyond doubt that Sharapova tested positive for the heart medication meldonium, the doses she took were below performance-boosting levels. The closely-held Austrian tennis-racket maker maintained that it has a strict anti-doping policy, and can terminate agreements with any athletes found guilty of abusing drugs.

Maria Sharapova

Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

“In the absence of any evidence of any intent by Maria of enhancing her performance or trying to gain an unfair advantage,” Sharapova’s drug use “falls into the category of honest mistakes,” Chief Executive Officer Johan Eliasch said in an e-mailed statement.

Head’s stance contrasts with actions taken by sponsors including Nike Inc., Porsche and watchmaker TAG Heuer, who’ve backed away from the world’s best-paid female athlete after she admitted on Monday to testing positive. Sharapova said she didn’t realize the drug, also known as mildronate, was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned substances list at the start of 2016.

Sharapova, a 5-time Grand Slam winner, has worked with Head since January 2011. A Russian who’s been based in the U.S. since childhood, Sharapova said she’s been taking Latvian-made meldonium since 2006 to tackle flu, abnormal heart activity and a family history of diabetes. It is not approved for use in the U.S. and got added to WADA’s banned list after traces of the drug were found in samples of hundreds of athletes.

“Maria may have made a mistake, but she has earned the benefit of the doubt and we are extending it to her,” Eliasch, the Head CEO, said. “We look forward to many more years of working with Maria.”

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