Athletes who have been banned for testing positive for meldonium could win a reprieve less than four months before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said it has been unable to establish how quickly the drug clears the human body.
Meldonium has been outlawed since Jan. 1 and the revelation applies to athletes who tested positive for the drug before March 1.
The revelation is expected to have a major impact on many of the 172 athletes who have tested positive for the performance-boosting drug, Reuters reports.
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, said on Wednesday that WADA handled the issue “poorly” and was now trying to make up for it.
WADA said there was 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 Jan. 1, when it became illegal,” WADA said in a statement sent to anti-doping agencies and sports federations.
“In these circumstances, WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete,” it said, adding that the presence of less than one microgram of meldonium in the samples was acceptable.
Last month, Reuters reported that the drug’s Latvian manufacturer said traces could remain in the body for several months depending on doses, duration of treatment and sensitivity of testing methods
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.
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