WADA makes meldonium U-turn, could affect Sharapova ban.

Athletes who tested positive for meldonium before March 1 could have their bans overturned less than four months before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after WADA said it was unable to establish how quickly the drug, outlawed since Jan. 1, cleared the system.

The World Anti-Doping Agency’s notice to national anti-doping bodies is expected to have a major impact on many of the 172 athletes who have tested positive for the performance-boosting drug since January.

They include five-time Grand Slam tennis champion Maria Sharapova, who was among 40 Russian athletes to test positive for the drug after it was added to WADA’s list of banned substances in January.

Sharapova’s lawyer John Haggerty accused WADA on Wednesday of “poorly” handling the issue and said they were now “trying to make up for it”.

WADA said there was “currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times”.

“As a result it is difficult to know whether an athlete may have taken the substance before or after January 1, when it became illegal.

“In these circumstances, WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete,” it said in a statement sent to anti-doping agencies and sports federations, adding that the presence of less than one microgram of meldonium in the samples was acceptable.

The anti-doping body’s notice also gave hope to athletes who have tested positive for the drug since March 1, depending on studies being carried out to determine how long it stays in the body.

Sharapova, who said she had been taking meldonium for more than a decade because of health problems, was provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in March after announcing she had failed a test at the Australian Open.

“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,” Haggerty said in a statement.

“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.”

Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpishchev said Sharapova’s ban could be addressed in a meeting with ITF head David Haggerty later this month.

“The situation with Sharapova could be resolved after April 21 when we meet with the head of the international federation. It is too early to talk about Sharapova competing at the Olympic Games,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted Tarpishchev as saying.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko welcomed WADA’s decision.

“The Russian Sports Ministry supports and welcomes the decision made by WADA because it has shown a willingness to understand the situation, rather than stick to the rulebook,” Mutko said in a statement.

“WADA has demonstrated impartiality and being objective in the fight against doping.”

Alexei Kravtsov, president of the Russian Skating Union (RSU), said that five-times world champion Pavel Kulizhnikov and 2014 Olympic short track gold medallist Semen Elistratov — both found to have taken meldonium — should be allowed to compete again after the WADA decision.

“These sportsmen should be allowed to fall under the amnesty due to the amount found in their doping tests,” Kravtsov was quoted as saying by the R-Sport news agency.

Two more Russian federations — rugby and cycling — said their athletes who had tested positive could be free to return to competition.

They include rugby player Alyona Mikhaltsova and cyclists Anastasia Chulkova and Pavel Yakushevsky who all tested positive for less than one microgram.

Meldonium, manufactured for people suffering from heart problems, can also increase blood flow and improve exercise capacity.

Maria Sharapova Just Put Meldonium On The Map, But You Probably Haven’t Heard Of These Performance-Enhancing Drugs Either

Meldonium, the same purported performance enhancer that landed tennis star Maria Sharapova in hot water, enjoyed plenty of popularity among athletes who attended the Baku 2015 European Games, a new report from the British Journal of Sport Medicine released January 8 has found.

Tennis ball

The authors examined testing results taken during the Games by the World Anti-Doping Agency Monitoring Program. More than 650 athletes at the Games from June 12-28 submitted blood and urine tests before and during the event. Of them, 8.7 percent tested positive for meldonium. Tellingly, only 3 percent of athletes self-reported their use of the drug prior to the test. though meldonium wasn’t placed on the the agency’s prohibited substance list until this January.

“These findings highlight the excessive and inappropriate use and prescribing of this prescription drug in a generally healthy athlete population,” the researchers concluded.

Sharapova announced in a press conference Monday that she tested positive for meldonium during the Australian Open in January, claiming she had often used it since 2006 to help with a number of medical issues, including magnesium deficiency. She also stated she was unaware that it was on the prohibited list, not having read an email sent from the doping agency in December regarding the changes. Sharapova, who is currently injured, was provisionally suspended from the sport by the International Tennis Federation for the failed test, with no word yet on how long the ban will last.

The study authors cautioned that Sharapova may not be alone in being ignorant about meldonium’s now-banned status, and advocated that National Anti-Doping Organizations launch a global awareness campaign aimed towards both athletes and healthcare providers to prevent future violations. “In addition, further education for athletes and their medical support personnel about appropriate prescribing of medical drugs only for legitimate medical care is warranted,” they wrote.

Of course, meldonium isn’t the only relatively obscure drug on the prohibited list.

There’s salbutamol, a long-used asthma drug traditionally available as an inhalant. When injected or taken as a tablet, though, it and other beta2 agonists act more like anabolic steroids. Or dextromoramide, a narcotic more potent than morphine but only available in the Netherlands. While not directly performance enhancers and plenty dangerous when not used correctly, narcotics allow athletes to ignore injuries and stress during competition and push themselves further than expected during training. Let’s not forget pindolol, one of many banned beta-blockers. Beta-blockers dull the effect of adrenaline, in turn allowing competitive archers, race car drivers, and even pool players to stay cooler under pressure with a slower heart beat and reduced anxiety.

Meldonium, the only major addition onto the 2016 ban list, is medically used to increase blood flow, prevent the enlargement of heart muscle, and increase stress tolerance. Strangely enough, though, its status as a bonafide performance enhancer isn’t set in stone.

“The evidence to demonstrate any performance enhancing effects of meldonium in the athlete population is limited,” the study authors noted. “There appears to be some evidence that meldonium may benefit exercise performance in rodents, but specific studies to evaluate potential effect on performance specifically in elite athletes have not been identified.”

Given many healthy athletes’ willingness to take the drug, and their later reluctance to admit to it, though, it’s likely there’s some proof in the pudding. The World Anti-Doping Agency, having previously placed meldonium on its 2015 watch list, apparently thought so too

What is meldonium, the substance that showed up in Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test?

Maria Sharapova announced  that she failed a drug test during this year’s Australian Open.

The Russian-born tennis star said she received a letter from the International Tennis Federation several days ago informing her that she had failed the test for meldonium during the Australian Open in January.

“I did fail the test,” Sharapova told reporters at a hastily arranged press conference in Los Angeles. “And I take full responsibility for it.”

The five-time Grand Slam champion said that she had been legally taking the drug, meldonium (also known as mildronate), as prescribed by a family doctor for a decade to combat a variety of illnesses while on tour.

What is meldonium?

According to the National Institutes of Health, the anti-ischemic drug meldonium “demonstrates an increase in endurance performance of athletes, improved rehabilitation after exercise, protection against stress, and enhanced activations of central nervous system functions.”

According to the Guardian newspaper, it is manufactured in Latvia and not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States.

Why is it a banned substance?

Due to “the growing body of evidence” concerning its misuse by athletes, the substance was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s monitoring program in 2015. WADA scrutinized the global athlete usage of the mildronate — which was which was not previously prohibited — to determine if the rates of use indicated any potential performance-enhancing concerns, and it wound up on its banned list on Jan. 1.

Sharapova said she had received an email from the ITF in December with a link to an updated list that included the newly banned substances, but admitted she “did not click on that link.”

In a statement released following Sharapova’s press conference, WADA said the drug was added to the list of prohibited substances in 2016 “because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.”

The 28-year-old, who splits time between her homes in Bradenton, Fla., and Manhattan Beach, Calif., insisted she had been prescribed mildronate to treat chronic illnesses, a magnesium deficiency and family history of diabetes.

What other substances are on the banned list?

In short, a lot.

Who else has been caught using it?

It turns out, quite a few athletes.

Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov was suspended this month after he tested positive for the drug, which boosts oxygen supply to the blood and tissues in the body.

Ukrainian biathletes Artem Tyshchenko and Olga Abramova as well as Ethiopian-born runners Abeba Aregawi and Endeshaw Negesse eachtested positive for meldonium in recent weeks.

Abramova was provisionally suspended in early February after testing positive for the metabolism booster. According to the AP, failed a test on Jan. 10, nine days after the drug was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list.

The IAAF announced last week that Aregawi, who now competes for Sweden, is a former 1,500-meter world champion, failed an out-of-competition doping test.

And on Monday, fellow Russian athlete and Olympic gold medallist figure skater Ekaterina Bobrova also admitted to testing positive for the drug.

What does this mean for Maria?

Tennis officials have yet to indicate what kind of punishment Sharapova will face, but a lengthy suspension and hefty fine are possible, even likely.

In fact, it’s already been pricey for the world’s highest-paid female athlete. Nike, Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer and Porsche — three of Sharapova’s most prominent sponsors — cut ties with the statuesque Russian within 24 hours of her announcement.

What does the tennis world think?

Serena Williams, who defeated Sharapova at the Australian Open on the day the test was administered, said her rival showed “a lot of courage” for accepting responsibility for the failed test.

“Most people were surprised and shocked, but happy that she was upfront and very honest,” Williams said Tuesday.

Nick Bollettieri, who is credited with grooming a teenage Sharapova at his Florida tennis academy, told the BBC he was shocked because “she has always been above board in everything.”

But Bollettieri said he believes Sharapova made a “very honest mistake.”

“She said she took these for many, many years and then didn’t read the memorandum that came out,” he said. “I don’t think that Maria Sharapova would continue doing something, especially being in the limelight, if there was something she knew about.”

Former American tennis star Jennifer Capriati was not as understanding.

“[I’m] extremely angry and disappointed,” Capriati, whose career was plagued by injuries and off-court issues including a stint in drug rehab, tweeted. “I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what. [I] had to throw in the towel and suffer.”

Capriati continued: “I didn’t have the high priced team of [doctors] that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up.” She subsequently deleted the tweets.

What’s next?

Sharapova — who stoked rumors of a possible retirement by calling for Monday’s press conference following a withdrawal from an upcoming tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., due to injury — said she isn’t sure what kind of penalty she’ll receive, but hopes to return to the tour.

“I don’t want to end my career this way,” she said. “I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game.”

Sharapova added: “I know many of you thought I would be retiring today, and announcing my retirement. But if I ever was going to announce my retirement, it would probably not be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with a fairly ugly carpet.”