Maria Sharapova may avoid punishment for her failed drug test as the World Anti-Doping Agency backtracks on the Meldonium ban.
The Russian superstar has received much criticism after she revealed her failed drug test at the Australian Open, where she tested positive for the substance, the banning of which had come into effect on 1 January 2016.
The former world number one came out and admitted the offence, adding that she had been prescribed the substance to treat heart and cardiovascular diseases for over ten years.
Sharapova also admitted she missed the announcement of the Meldonium ban, which was ‘buried in an email’ sent in September 2015. Since 1 January, 174 athletes have tested positive for the drug.
Now, WADA is backtracking somewhat, as it is very possible athletes had stopped taking the substance before the ban but the drug remained in their system. More to the point, it has not been scientifically proven how long Meldonium stays in the human body.
“In the case of Meldonium, there is currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times,” WADA said in a statement.
“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 1 January 2016 could not reasonably have known or suspected that Meldonium would still be present in his or her body on or after 1 January 2016.
“In these circumstances, WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete.”
Sharapova’s attorney, John Haggerty, said WADA has handled the Meldonium ban very poorly and law abiding athletes are paying the price.
“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 Haggerty.
“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 is unclear how this new information will affect Sharapova’s case, as she has not indicated when, if at all, she stopped taking Meldonium. The five-time grand slam champion was immediately suspended by the International Tennis Federation and is currently awaiting a hearing.