Maria Sharapova announces she failed a doping test at the Australian Open during March presser.
Maria Sharapova’s road to Rio may have gotten a little clearer Tuesday.
The Russian tennis star — one of 172 athletes to test positive for meldonium since Jan. 1 — has seen her Olympic plans put on ice while she awaits a possible competition ban that could disqualify her from this summer’s Olympics in Brazil.
But the World Anti-Doping Agency on Tuesday acknowledged a lack of scientific evidence about how long meldonium stays in a person’s system. WADA’s announcement gives athletes and their lawyers a strong argument against sanctions, since the heart medication was only banned on Jan. 1.
Maria Sharapova hopes to compete for Russia at the Summer Olympics in Rio.
In a notice to stakeholders, WADA said hearing panels “might justifiably find” that the athletes found in violation “could not reasonably have known” that they were taking a drug before Jan. 1 that “would still be in his or her body after” that date.
“In these circumstances, WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete,” the Montreal-based agency said in its notice.
But WADA rushed to insist that athletes were still strictly liable for substances in their system and that its Tuesday notice — a letter sent to national anti-doping agencies, sport federations and others — was merely a clarification issued amid an unprecedented surge of positive tests just months before the Olympics.
“There’s no change to the rules at all,” WADA spokesman Ben Nichols told the Daily News. “What we’ve done is give the anti-doping agencies clarification and guidance on how they might pursue these cases… We’re just trying to help the anti-doping organizations to run efficient, correct compliance.”
Sharapova, the most prominent figure caught with the drug, tested positive in January at the Australian Open. The 28-year-old tennis star has been provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation while her legal team prepares for a disciplinary hearing.
Sponsors ditched the five-time Grand Slam winner in a hurry in March after she announced the positive test, explaining that she had been taking meldonium for a decade for medical reasons and hadn’t noticed it was banned. A large percentage of the positive cases involve Russians and Eastern Europeans who use the Latvian-made heart drug. Anti-doping agencies believe the drug improves blood flow, giving athletes an endurance edge for training and competing.
The explosion of positive tests has reportedly led teams and athletes in a wide range of sports to withdraw from competitions and face bans from the national doping agencies under WADA’s umbrella.
WADA claimed that the agency is not giving amnesty to the athletes who have tested positive.
WADA spokesman Ben Nichols said WADA issued the notice in hopes of speeding up the resolution of doping appeals that could interfere with Olympic team selection. He said WADA stands firmly behind the science of the anti-doping test for meldonium, as well as the reasoning that placed it on the banned substance list.