WADA Meldonium: Maria Sharapova Case Creates Meldonium Probe By World Anti-Doping Agency

WADA is re-evaluating its stance on meldonium, and the athletes that have tested positive for it.

The Associated Press reports, via MSN, that the World Anti-Doping Agency says some athletes who tested positive for meldonium may be able to avoid sanctions by virtue of the fact that it’s unknown how long it takes the drug to clear the system.

WADA announced that provisional suspensions can be lifted if it’s decided that an athlete took meldonium before it was added to the list of banned substances on Jan. 1.

Since the drug was prohibited by WADA, 120 tests have been positive in multiple sports around the globe — with many of them in Russia. The latest instance of WADA’s meldonium sanctions befell Russian tennis player, Maria Sharapova; she tested positive for the substance during the Australian Open in January.

In a notice sent to national anti-doping agencies and international sports federations, WADA sent a letter to national and international anti-doping agencies, expounding that “limited data exists” on the time it takes for meldonium to clear the system.

ESPN adds more in its report on WADA and meldonium — basing it off the Associated Press.

“It’s not an amnesty as such,” WADA president Craig Reedie told the Associated Press.

Sharapova’s attorney, John Haggerty, said Wednesday that the mere fact that WADA released such a statement demonstrates how “poorly they handled issues relating to meldonium in 2015.” Haggerty believes that because “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.”

Her attorney went on to say that WADA’s meldonium ban reversal “underscores” how this would have made a difference in the many athletes that have already tested positive for the drug in their respective sports.

Defense lawyer Howard Jacobs has worked with several high-profile doping cases and is also part Sharapova’s legal team. He told ESPN.com that it’s “too early to say” whether the data released by WADA would affect her circumstances.

Jacobs has another client involved in a meldonium case. The unidentified athlete’s test results have yet to be released, but Jacobs believes that WADA’s continuing study of how long the drug stays present in the system will do a lot in resolving the pending cases. For the time being, Jacobs said he’ll “reserve judgment” on whether that research conducted by the agency’s laboratories would also need further analysis from labs hired by athletes.

Sharapova didn’t specify when she last used meldonium, but many athletes have tested positive for the drug after it lingered in their systems for months after quitting last year. The winner of five Grand Slam titles said that she’d used meldonium for medical reasons over a 10-year period. She claimed to have not known about a WADA notice last year that declared the drug would be banned starting in 2016.

Sharapova was temporarily suspended by the International Tennis Federation pending a disciplinary hearing.

Preliminary results from WADA-accredited laboratories show that long-term affects of meldonium can take weeks or months to leave the system, WADA said.

This could mean that it’s possible athletes who took meldonium before Jan. 1 “could not reasonably have known or suspected” that the drug would still remain in their bodies after that date, WADA said.

“In these circumstances WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete,” the statement said.

WADA spokesman Ben Nichols emphatically added that the latest development on reducing sanctions against meldonium “in no way” serves as an “amnesty” for athletes that have “committed an anti-doping rule violation.” WADA’s examination into this specific drug is meant to be used as “guidance for how anti-doping organizations should assess the particular circumstances of each individual case under their jurisdiction.”

Hinging on WADA’s decision to possibly reduce sanctions over meldonium use, Maria Sharapova might be exonerated in her case after testing positive for the substance.

[AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File]

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