Sharapova lawyer slams Wada handling of meldonium ban
If less than one microgram per millilitre detected athletes could be cleared of blame
Tennis player Maria Sharapova addresses the media regarding a failed drug test at the Australian Open Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Above you can see the production of meldonium under the brand ‘Mildronate’ at the pharmaceutical company Grindex in Riga, Latvia. Around 40 Russian athletes are under investigation for using meldonium. Photograph: EPA
Maria Sharapova’s lawyer has slammed the World Anti-Doping Agency’s handling of the meldonium ban.
Wada has given a potential lifeline to athletes who have tested positive for the cardiac drug after admitting it is not clear how long it takes to leave the body.
Meldonium was added to the banned list at the start of 2016 and so far 172 sportsmen and women have failed tests for it.
Studies are currently being conducted into the renal elimination of the drug and Wada has issued new guidelines which could see some athletes cleared.
Wada said that, based on the preliminary results of those studies, meldonium could be detectable for several months after it had last been ingested.
Tennis star Sharapova is the highest-profile athlete to have tested positive and is serving a provisional suspension ahead of a hearing that will determine what sanction she faces.
Considering the Russian admitted when announcing her failed test that she did not know meldonium had been added to the banned list, it is doubtful whether Wada’s change of guidance will affect her case.
But, in a statement on the Facebook page of her management company IMG, Sharapova’s lawyer John Haggerty said: “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.
“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.”
Russian swimmer Yuliya Efimova, Swedish runner Abeba Aregawi and Russian Olympic speed-skating champion Semion Elistratov are among the other athletes to have failed tests.
The new Wada guidance to stakeholders says: “In the case of meldonium, there is currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times.
“For this reason, a hearing panel might justifiably find (unless there is specific evidence to the contrary) that an athlete who has established on the balance of probabilities that he or she ingested meldonium before January 1st 2016 could not reasonably have known or suspected that the meldonium would still be present in his or her body on or after January 1st 2016.
“In these circumstances, Wada considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete.”
If the amount of meldonium detected was less than one microgram per millilitre, athletes could be cleared of blame, while the same applies if the sample was taken before March 1 and the concentration was between one and 15 micrograms.
A significant percentage of the athletes who have failed tests have been Russian, and the Russian Sports Ministry welcomed the news.
It said in a statement reported by rt.com: “The Russian Sports Ministry supports and welcomes the decision made by Wada because it has showed a willingness to understand the situation, rather than stick to the rulebook.
“They were ready to study how long it would take for meldonium to be eliminated from the body of an athlete.
“Wada has sent recommendations to all the anti-doping organisations, which will allow them to make fair decisions based on the actual guilt of an athlete. In doing so, Wada has demonstrated impartiality and being objective in the fight against doping.”