Some of Maria Sharapova's biggest sponsors are saying they'll stick with her despite her 2-year tennis ban

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Maria Sharapova Banned 2 Years For Doping

Two of Maria Sharapova's biggest sponsors are saying that they'll stick with her, despite the Russian athlete being handed a two-year ban from the sport on Wednesday for failing a drugs test earlier this year.

Significantly, Nike, which initially suspended its estimated $12.5 million-a-year contract with Sharapova when she admitted in March she tested positive for banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open, has now come out in support of the tennis champ.

In a statement given to The Evening Standard, Nike said: "The ITF [International Tennis Federation] Tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules. Maria has always made her position clear, has apologized for her mistake and is now appealing the length of the ban. Based on the decision of the ITF and their factual findings, we hope to see Maria back on court and will continue to partner with her."

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Sharapova's racket sponsor Head has always said it would continue its deal, despite her admission that she had taken the recently banned substance.

In a lengthy statement sent to Business Insider (which we have published in full below), Head chairman Johan Eliasach criticized the ITF's decision, which he said was based on a "flawed process" undertaken by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Other big sponsorship deals are still up in the air

However, some of Sharapova's other sponsors are postponing their contracts with the five-time Grand Slam champion.

Watchmaker Tag Heuer, which said earlier this year it would not renew its deal with Sharapova, told Business Insider it would not be signing another contract with the athlete any time soon.

Jean-Claude Biver, Tag Heuer CEO, said: "We now have some time and as she is suspended for two years we are not in a hurry anymore to sign a new contract today or this month. We will see later what we are going to do.
Sorry, but cannot say anything more for the time being."

sharapova head racketKevork Djansezian/GettyPorsche, which announced in March it was suspending its deal with Sharapova, was not immediately available for comment.

Evian has yet to make any statement so far about its relationship with Sharapova and was also not immediately available for comment.

The ITF announced Wednesday Sharapova's two-year ban would commence from January 26, the day she failed a test for meldonium at the Australian Open. The tribunal found that she had not intentionally broken anti-doping rules but she bore responsibility for not noticing the drug had recently been added to its banned substances list. The tribunal also found she "concealed" her use of the drug from anti-doping authorities.

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Sharapova has previously said she had been taking meldonium since 2006 because of a variety of health concerns, including the possibility she may have diabetes because it runs in her family.

The drug is used to treat cardiac issues and can increase endurance, according to the Independent. WADA added meldonium to its list of banned substances at the start of 2016, but Sharapova said she failed to read the update.

Sharapova says she plans to appeal the ITF's decision, The Guardian reported.

Head chairman Johan Eliasch's statement in full:

In response to the ITF Tribunal decision today to ban Maria Sharapova for 2 years for the unintentional usage of a banned substance, I would like to clarify our position. Based upon the evidence provided by Miss Sharapova, WADA and by Dr Don Catlin, the Chief Science Officer of the Banned Substances Control Group, it appears that the ITF have made their decision based upon a flawed process undertaken by WADA that clearly highlights how WADA have broken their own rules in determining whether or not Meldonium should be banned.

Using WADA's decision rubric, WADA's decision to ban Meldonium is not based upon extensive clinical testing that underlines Meldonium's performance enhancing benefits. There are a limited amount of scientific studies that point to Meldonium's cardioprotective and anti- ischaemic properties but nothing that correlates Meldonium as a performance enhancing drug. There are also no published studies that indicate that using Meldonium is detrimental to the health of an athlete. This indicates that WADA banned Meldonium without fulfilling their first two rules. The only condition that could potentially be argued in favor of WADA's rules is that the prevalence of Meldonium use amongst certain groups of athletes violated the spirit of sport. This is subject to interpretation and if deemed correct would only fulfil a single rule. In order for a product to be banned it must fulfil two rules.

Without necessary and extensive clinical testing that highlights either Meldonium's performance enhancing benefits or evidence of it being detrimental to athletes, it is evident that WADA banned Meldonium based upon the amount of athletes using Meldonium rather than any scientific evidence. WADA have a responsibility to make decisions based upon scientific inquiry rather than prevalence of use and most importantly must fulfil their own rules when making such decisions.

We believe, based on the facts and circumstances provided to us, that this is a flawed decision. HEAD will continue to stand by Miss Sharapova.

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See photos of Sharapova's through the years

22 PHOTOS
Maria Sharapova through the years
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Some of Maria Sharapova's biggest sponsors are saying they'll stick with her despite her 2-year tennis ban
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 07: Tennis player Maria Sharapova reacts as she addresses the media regarding a failed drug test at The LA Hotel Downtown on March 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Sharapova, a five-time major champion, is currently the 7th ranked player on the WTA tour. Sharapova, withdrew from this weekÂs BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells due to injury. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova of Russia gets set for a serve from Monica Seles during their match Thursday, March 7, 2002, in Indian Wells, Calif. Seles won the match 6-0, 6-2. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Maria Sharapova of Russia reacts after missing a shot during her semi-final match against Monica Seles of the United States in the Hong Kong Ladies Challenge tennis tournament in Hong Kong Friday, Jan. 3, 2003. Seles won 6-3, 6-0. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Russia's Maria Sharapova returns to Yugoslavia's Jelena Dokic, during their Women's Singles, third round match on the Number One Court, on the sixth day of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, Saturday, June 28, 2003. Sharapova won the match 6-4, 6-4.(AP Photo/Dave Caulkin)
Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova, center, smiles during a demonstration session at Hong Kong's Victoria Tennis Court Sunday, Jan. 4, 2004. Sharapova will have friendly match with Venus Williams and Chanda Rubin of the United States, and Russia's Elena Dementieva on Jan. 8-10. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)
Russia's Maria Sharapova reacts after defeating Yulia Beygeizimer of the Ukraine in their Women's Singles, first round match at Wimbledon, Monday June 21, 2004. (AP Photo/Sang Tan) ** EDITORIAL USE ONLY **
Maria Sharapova, of Russia, serves to Amelie Mauresmo (not shown), of France, during their semifinal match at the WTA Championships at Staples Center in Los Angeles, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2005. Mauresmo won, 7-6, 6-3. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Maria Sharapova from Russia serves against Justine Henin-Hardenne from Belgium during her WTA Championships tennis tournament semi-final match in Madrid, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2006. Justine Henin-Hardenne won the match in two sets 6-2, 7-6. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Russia's Maria Sharapova celebrates winning her match against fellow countrywoman Anna Chakvetadze during the Sony Ericsson Championships match in Madrid, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007. Sharapova won 6-2, 6-2. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
Russia's tennis player Maria Sharapova looks on during a press conference, Saturday Dec. 29, 2007, in Singapore where she will play against compatriot Anna Chakvetadze at an exhibition match on Sunday. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Maria Sharapova, of Russia, returns the ball against Daniela Hantuchova at the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., Wednesday, March 19, 2008. (AP Photo/Mark Avery)
Tennis Player Maria Sharapova unveils a limited edition Canon PowerShot diamond encrusted camera on Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2008, in New York. (AP Photo/Peter Kramer)
Maria Sharapova of Russia holds the trophy after the final match against Jelena Jankovic of Serbia at the Pan Pacific Open tennis tournament in Tokyo, Japan, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009. Former No. 1-ranked Sharapova won her first tournament since returning from a 10-month injury layoff when Jankovic was forced to retire in the first set. Jankovic retired with an injured right arm trailing 5-2 in the first set. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)
Russia's Maria Sharapova waves to the public after defeating compatriot Ksenia Pervak during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Tuesday, May 25, 2010. (AP Photo/Laurent Baheux)
Professional tennis player Maria Sharapova watches the New Jersey Nets vs. the Charlotte Bobcats in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 11, 2011 in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Maria Sharapova of Russia reacts during a tennnis match against Samantha Stosur of Australia at the WTA championship in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011. Sharapova lost to Stosur 6-1, 7-5. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Maria Sharapova of Russia, serves to Roberta Vinci of Italy, during their match at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, Tuesday, March 13, 2012, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Russia's Maria Sharapova looks up after beating Australian Samantha Stosur 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 during their quarterfinal match at the Porsche tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, Friday, April 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)
Maria Sharapova arrives at the 3.1 Phillip Lim for Target launch event at Spring Studio on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 in New York. (Photo by Dario Cantatore/Invision/AP)
Maria Sharapova of the Manila Mavericks autographs large tennis balls of fans following her win over Kristina Mladenovic of the UAE Royals in their IPTL (International Premier Tennis League) Women's Singles match Friday, Nov. 28, 2014 at the Mall of Asia Arena at suburban Pasay city, south of Manila, Philippines. The IPTL, featuring four teams, introduces a new format in tennis and a chance for a championship prize of $1-million dollars. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates after defeating Flavia Pennetta of Italy during their singles match at the WTA tennis finals in Singapore on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
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