According to the World Anti Doping Agency, the drug Meldonium that has taken many athletes out of competition including tennis superstar Maria Sharapova could be taken off the banned list due to a lack of scientific evidence.
The drug’s recent addition to WADA’s list of banned substances has led to numerous cases and suspensions for athletes that all could be lifted due to how long meldonium stays in the body system.
More than 120 positive tests have been recorded through various sports with most coming out of Russia. The country’s under-18 hockey team suffered more than half their team being suspended due to positive tests. It led Russia’s hockey federation to use its under 17 team as alternates for this week’s World Championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota.
The biggest case so far has been Sharapova who is on provisional suspension by the International Tennis Federation due to a positive test during the Australian Open in January. She received word back in March before announcing it to the tennis world. The possibility of her returning to the sports becomes likely with the talk of lifting sanctions on the drug.
“The fact that WADA felt compelled to issue this unusual statement now is proof of how poorly they handled issues relating to Meldonium in 2015,” said Sharapova’s attorney John Haggerty after hearing the news. “Given the fact that scores of athletes have tested positive for taking what previously was a legal product, it’s clear WADA did not handle this properly last year and they’re trying to make up for it now.”
“The notice underscores why so many legitimate questions have been raised concerning WADA’s process in banning Meldonium as well as the manner in which they notified players. This notice should have been widely distributed in 2015, when it would have made a difference in the lives of many athletes.”
It has led some governing bodies in sports to urge WADA to speak about the issue and give some clarity and specifics on how to deal with new and current cases. Currently WADA has its laboratories working on the length of time the drug stays in the system. Preliminary results have shown that long-term use of meldonium could take weeks or months to pass.
Athletes who took the drug before the Jan. 1 ban “could not reasonably have known or suspected that the drug would still be present in their bodies after that date,” WADA said in a statement. “In these circumstances WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete.”
Despite the recent turn of events by some in both the sports and science fields WADA president Craig Reedie wasn’t yet ready to make any drastic changes to the agency’s current stance. “It’s not an amnesty as such,” he said about the possible lift of suspensions. “It (the announcement) is designed to explain the science that we know,” he continued. “The issue that it deals with is the time this drug takes to come out of the system. It’s an attempt to clarify the many questions that we’ve been asked.”
The Russian tennis federation recently made a statement about their hopes that Sharapova would be able to compete at the Olympics in August. The same went for world champion swimmer Yulia Efimova who was suspended for a positive test with the Russian swimming federation hoping that she also could compete in her sport.