Maria Sharapova, one of the tennis world’s most recognized athletes, has tested positive for a banned substance.
Sharapova announced Monday that she tested positive for the drug meldonium in January at the Australian Open.
“I take full responsibility for it,” Sharapova said. “For the past 10 years I have been given a medicine called mildronate by my doctor, by my family doctor. And a few days ago after I received the ITF (International Tennis Federation) letter I found out that it also has another name of meldonium, which I did not know.”
The substance was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) banned list at the beginning of this year.
The list is reviewed every year, said Dr. Andrew Pipe, medical and scientific advisor to Canada’s anti-doping agency, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES).
He says substances are added if it’s felt the drug is capable of assisting performance. That list of banned substances is made public well before it comes into effect.
“Athletes very often consume a mind-boggling array of substances and compounds,” said Pipe, who is not involved with Sharapova or her case.
“The oversights that can occur can have calamitous consequences.”
Pipe says meldonium is not commonly used in Western medicine, but in Eastern communities, “it’s suggested that this can be helpful in circulatory and cardiac disorders.”
“[Meldonium is] a drug which effects… human metabolism in such a way that it supposedly makes available more oxygen in various tissues, various cells, and therefore it’s been suggested being helpful in a variety of clinical conditions.”
Russia-born Sharapova, 28, says she began taking the drug in 2006 to help her deal with “several” health issues, including irregular EKG (electrocardiogram) results and early signs of diabetes, coupled with a family history of the disease.
“Scientific literature around its effectiveness has been pretty minimal, but nonetheless, when this product was examined, clearly there was a feeling that this was capable of enhancing performance,” said Dr. Pipe.
After Sharapova’s admission WADA issued a statement saying “Meldonium was added [to the Prohibited List] because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.”
The doping agency said it awaits the International Tennis Federation’s decision in the matter, then will “subsequently decide whether or not to use its independent right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.”
WADA President Craig Reedie told The Associated Press that any athlete found guilty of using meldonium would normally face a one-year suspension.
So far Sharapova has been handed a provisional suspension starting Mar. 12, “pending determination of the case.”
“WADA monitors the use of various substances and noticed an increased use of this medication and the agency believes that athletes are using it to gain a performance enhancing benefit because it does increase their energy levels,” says CCES president and CEO Paul Melia.
Melia said in Canada many efforts are made to draw an athlete’s attention, along with their support personnel, to banned substance lists.
“It’s up to the athlete to read the material that they’re provided with, for sure,” Melia says.
Sharapova admits she failed to open an email link regarding newly banned substances, which included information on meldonium.
“I made a huge mistake, I’ve let my fans down, I’ve let this sport down… I don’t want to end my career this way and I really hope that I will be given another chance,” she said Monday.
Sharapova has been playing professionally since 2001 and is currently ranked seventh in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).
WTA CEO Steve Simon said in a statement Sharapova is a leader and woman of “great integrity”, however, the matter is now in the hands of the ITF’s anti-doping program.
With a file from the Associated Press
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