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In an embarassing back flip and just four months shy of Rio, WADA looks set to overturn the bans of 172 athletes who tested positive for the prohibited drug meldonium since January 1, including the biggest catch of them all, Maria Sharapova.
By
Rachel de Bear

Source:
AAP
14 Apr 2016 - 3:37 PM  UPDATED 14 Apr 2016 - 3:41 PM

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Meldonium: a huge Latvian export drug designed to increase blood flow and used to treat angina, myocardial infarction and heart failure. In many cases it's also used for diabetes. 

In an embarassing u-turn and just four months before the Rio Olympics, WADA looks set to overturn the bans of 172 athletes who tested positive for the prohibited drug meldonium before March 1, including Maria Sharapova.

Meldonium was added to WADA's monitoring program over 12 months ago where it was researched and evaluated before finally making WADA's prohibited list on 1 January 2016.

Well before this date, WADA sent out numerous missives and memos directly to athletes and via sporting bodies advising of its future ban. 

Now, WADA says it is unable to establish how quickly the drug clears the human body. 

"It is difficult to know whether an athlete may have taken the substance before or after January 1, when it became illegal," WADA said in a statement.

"In these circumstances, WADA considers there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete," it said.

Many of the 172 athletes who have tested positive since January 1 have claimed they did not take meldonium after this date. 

WADA also added that less than one microgram of meldonium in an athlete's samples was acceptable.

This will have a huge impact on those 172 athletes banned since January 1, including tennis star Maria Sharapova.

In a March press conference, Sharapova confessed to a lifetime of meldonium use because of diabetes and heart problems in her gene pool. During her confession, she announced her positive test for meldonium in January's Australian Open.

Sharapova also openly and readily admitted she received WADA's emails about the 1 January ban (and probably those from Russian anti-doping agency) but didn't bother clicking on them. 

Despite this fact, her lawyer condemned WADA's handling of meldonium's prohibited status. 

"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."

WADA President Craig Reedie also added that stakeholders from across the numerous countries and sports affeted by the positive tests have called for further clarification and guidance. 

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.

Sharapova is one of 40 Russian athletes to test positive for meldonium after it was added to WADA's prohibited list in January.