More grave doubts over validity of certain stars
Very much of a letdown has occurred with the news that Russian Tennis Superstar Maria Sharapova was declared to have failed a drugs test during this year's Australian Open in January. Listed by a highly influential publication as the highest paid female athlete on the world scene – pulling in about U.S $20 million per year – the glamour queen of the courts has come under a ban likely to last four years. She seemed full of poise, making one wonder as to the level of sincerity with which her statement was presented to the media. It gave the feeling she was sorry to have let down the sport, the fans and herself, but it could have been read into it a greater disappointment at becoming centre of controversy, in this manner, having admitted to taking the drug meldonium medicinally for several years before it became listed as prohibited in January of this year.
There is no way to deny that Sharapora has been the most dazzling personality among white prima donnas in the sport. And it's largely due to the stumbling block posed by the Williams sisters she has not managed to add to her tally of five Grand Slam successes. Her player profile and iconic personality have placed her in highest demand as a model for any aspect of women's apparel and accessories. We may not exactly know what sports manufacturers NIKE were paying her to advertise their goods. However, it is bound to be considerable when it is rumoured by insiders in the business that Venus Williams some years ago, when at the top of her powers, was under a US $40 million contract to REEBOK to elegantly display their products.
NIKE is said to have suspended their deal with Maria. The whole thing makes one feel she will by no means be the last to come under sanctions applied by both the governing body and the relevant sponsors. The sport of tennis provides tremendous appeal as a spectator event and offers spectacular scope for defining the personalities of women at the top of the game. It is so as well for the men. However, though Roger Federer is lauded in some quarters as "the greatest player the sport has produced" his profile – godlike as it is, visually diminishes against the radiance vested in a goddess portrayed by Maria or Serena.
There will always be big bucks for the top exponents of tennis. The men's champion, and like him his female counterpart, gets $4 million (US) for winning any of the four major titles (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon Championship and U.S. Open). And winning any of them is not easy. Generally, a match is expected to last between two and three hours for the women and from three to four and a half hours (or more) for the men. Then, compound this by having to win through seven such encounters from first round to the final. In each of his or her matches a player is calculated to run at varying speeds peaking at outright sprints over combined distances spanning a few miles. The terror of exertion on the court entails doing all of it by your own self without teammate support. In football, basketball and netball etc it is a team effort and the burden is shared physically and technically. Not so in tennis. The player must shoulder the entire workload and must look good while doing it or be mirrored as lousy before unrelenting T.V. cameras.
With such cumulative pressures from month to month and even week to week, running into years, it is not surprising some players yield to temptation to resort to substances they hope will help retain enhanced performance levels. To play top class tennis is highly strenuous for a year, and carrying it into the protracted dimensions of five years and more is punishing on the body. How Novak Djokovic does it is beyond belief. Not surprisingly, the stress toll catches up with Serena Williams just when the whole world transfixes on her to carry off the Grand Slam feat. Clearly the world's premier female star, the ladder gets pulled from beneath her at the zenith of her effort by a lesser entity. We see why Bjorn Borg of Sweden retired from professional tennis while still only 26 years old and having won five Wimbledon titles in succession.
All the vast array of exercise programmes entailed in developing the emerging tennis talent cannot disallow an acceptance of the human frame as vulnerable to overextended exertion. Injuries do come into the picture and there is burnout – a factor imposed by nature against senseless overwork. Everyone of the top players are capable and take immense pride in winning, but their challenges are made far more severe by an influx of very talented youngsters, all eager to swipe venerable predecessors from off their perches. They hit hard. Hit extreme angles and execute outrageously deft touches considered foolhardy only a few years ago.
Of importance in the cricket world has been the recent announcement that Jamaica and West Indies all-rounder Andre Russell has come up positive for use of a banned substance. Cricket is not in the main seen as a sport in which players have been oriented towards drug abuse. Russell's case inevitably will be seen from a standpoint of potential influence on Caribbean youth in the broad sense. As a dynamic and appealing young man capable of singlehandedly changing the course of a match, ever so many impressionable youngsters may tend to gravitate towards accepting drug abuse as "cool".
For the multitude of sportsmen and sports enthusiasts the focus from a philosophical insight may wrestle continually with the sense of conjecture as to how genuinely sincere the best players are in confirmation of being drug free. Horrors of evidence emerging from professional cycling, repeatedly attuned to drug enhancement leanings, stand glaringly among the worst hypocrisy imaginable in sports. There can be no lower destination for depravity in the human psyche when wholesale team withdrawals from Olympic competition in weightlifting have taken place under threat of likely further detection of drug abuse. Only a short time ago there has been some move to ban Russia from participating in international competition because of reported government connivance with drug abuse in sports. The worst scenario is that of an expressed differentiation in bodybuilding – with some competitions specifically labeled "drug free" or "steroid free"! It cannot get more cynical than that.