WADA: Athletes may be able to avoid suspensions for meldonium

Maria Sharapova
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LONDON (AP) — In a dramatic change that could lead to numerous doping cases being thrown out, athletes who tested positive for meldonium may be able to avoid sanctions because of a lack of scientific evidence on how long the recently banned drug stays in the system.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said Wednesday provisional suspensions can be lifted if it is determined that an athlete took meldonium before it was placed on the list of banned substances on Jan. 1.

“It’s not an amnesty as such,” WADA President Craig Reedie told The Associated Press.

WADA said 172 positive tests for meldonium have been recorded so far in various sports and countries — many in Russia — since the drug was prohibited. The highest profile case involves Maria Sharapova, who announced last month that she tested positive during the Australian Open in January.

Some athletes who have tested positive have claimed meldonium remained in their systems for months even though they stopped using it last year. Sharapova did not specify when she had last used meldonium.

The Latvian-made drug, which is typically prescribed for heart conditions, was widely used as a supplement by athletes in Eastern European countries. The drug increases blood flow, which improves exercise capacity by carrying more oxygen to the muscles.

In a notice to national anti-doping agencies, WADA acknowledged that “there is a lack of clear scientific information” on how long it takes for meldonium to clear the system.

While several studies are currently being carried out by WADA-accredited laboratories, preliminary results show that long-term excretion of meldonium can take weeks or months, it said.

As a result, it is possible that athletes who took meldonium before Jan. 1 “could not reasonably have known or suspected” that the drug would still be present in their bodies after that date, WADA said.

“In these circumstances WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete,” the statement said.

Reedie said the notice was sent out to all national anti-doping bodies on Tuesday. It was released first publicly by Russia’s anti-doping agency on Wednesday before being posted on WADA’s website.

“It is designed to explain the science that we know,” Reedie told the AP in a telephone interview. “The issue that it deals with is the time this drug takes to come out of the system. It’s an attempt to clarify the many questions that we’ve been asked.”

In a separate statement, WADA stressed that meldonium remains a banned substance and athletes face the rule of strict liability whereby they are responsible for any prohibited drug found in their body.

“Meldonium is a particular substance, which has created an unprecedented situation and therefore warranted additional guidance for the anti-doping community,” Reedie said.

The Russian sports ministry and national Olympic committee welcomed the WADA statement, and the country’s officials suggested there could be a mass amnesty of Russian athletes.

Russian tennis federation head Shamil Tarpishchev told the R-Sport agency he hoped that Sharapova would be able to play at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, while the head of the Russian swimming federation suggested there could be a swift return to competition for suspended World champion Yulia Efimova.

“In no way does this serve as an ‘amnesty’ for athletes that are asserted to have committed an anti-doping rule violation,” WADA spokesman Ben Nichols told the AP in an email. “Rather, it serves as guidance for how anti-doping organizations should assess the particular circumstances of each individual case under their jurisdiction.”

The meldonium cases have no bearing on the ongoing suspension of Russia’s track and field team following a WADA commission report into what it called state-sponsored doping.

Sharapova, a winner of five Grand Slam titles, said she had been taking meldonium for medical reasons over a 10-year period and had not seen a WADA notice last year that the drug would be banned starting in 2016.

Sharapova was provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation pending a disciplinary hearing.

“We can confirm that the case is ongoing and that there will be a hearing,” ITF spokesman Nick Imison told the AP on Wednesday. “I have seen the statement from WADA and obviously any ongoing cases will take that information from WADA, but it won’t affect the fact that there is an ongoing case.”

Sharapova’s lawyer said WADA’s statement was “proof of how poorly” the agency handled meldonium issues in 2015.

“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,” attorney John Haggerty said in a statement. “This notice should have been widely distributed in 2015, when it would have made a difference in the lives of many athletes.”

WADA said prosecution of meldonium cases can be “stayed” and provisional suspensions lifted if the concentration of the drug in the system is between 1 and 15 micrograms per millileter and the test was carried out before March 1, or if the level is below 1 microgram per millileter and the doping control was conducted after March 1. In both cases, the drug could still be in the athletes’ system from before Jan. 1.

The agency said doping cases should be pursued, however, in the case of athletes who admit having taken meldonium on or after Jan. 1. The same applies to cases where the concentration of the drug is above 15 micrograms per millileter and where the level is between 1 and 15 and the drug test was after March 1.

MORE: Sharapova still in Russia’s Olympic plans

U.S. women’s basketball team, statistically greatest ever, rolls to FIBA World Cup title

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The revamped U.S. women’s basketball team may have been the greatest of all time.

The Americans completed, statistically, their most dominant global championship ever by routing China 83-61 in the FIBA World Cup final on Saturday in Sydney — giving them 60 consecutive wins between the Olympics and worlds dating to 2006.

It marked the largest margin of victory in a World Cup final since the event converted from a fully round-robin format in 1983.

For the tournament, the U.S. drubbed its opponents by an average of 40.75 points per game, beating its previous record between the Olympics and worlds of 37.625 points from the 2008 Beijing Games. It was just off the 1992 U.S. Olympic men’s Dream Team’s legendary margin 43.8 points per game. This U.S. team scored 98.75 points per game, its largest at worlds since 1994.

“We came here on a mission, a business trip,” tournament MVP A’ja Wilson said in a post-game press conference before turning to coach Cheryl Reeve. “We played pretty good, I think, coach.”

Since the U.S. won a seventh consecutive Olympic title in Tokyo, Sue Bird and Sylvia Fowles retired. Tina Charles ceded her national team spot to younger players. Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (and still is). Diana Taurasi suffered a WNBA season-ending quad injury that ruled her out of World Cup participation (who knows if the 40-year-old Taurasi will play for the U.S. again).

Not only that, but Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx succeeded Dawn Staley as head coach, implementing a new up-tempo system.

“There was probably great concern, and maybe around the world they kind of looked at it and said, ‘Hey, now is the time to get the USA,'” Reeve said Saturday.

The U.S. response was encapsulated by power forward Alyssa Thomas, the oldest player on the roster at age 30 who made the U.S. team for the first time in her career, started every game and was called the team’s glue and MVP going into the final.

Wilson and Tokyo Olympic MVP Breanna Stewart were the leaders. Guard Kelsey Plum, a Tokyo Olympic 3×3 player, blossomed this past WNBA season and was third in the league’s MVP voting. She averaged the most minutes on the team, scored 15.8 points per game and had 17 in the final.

“The depth of talent that we have was on display,” Reeve said. “What I am most pleased about was the trust and buy-in.”

For the first time since 1994, no player on the U.S. roster was over the age of 30, creating a scary thought for the 2024 Paris Olympics: the Americans could get even better.

“When you say best-ever, I’m always really cautious with that, because, obviously, there are great teams,” Reeve said when asked specifically about the team’s defense. “This group was really hard to play against.”

Earlier Saturday, 41-year-old Australian legend Lauren Jackson turned back the clock with a 30-point performance off the bench in her final game as an Opal, a 95-65 victory over Canada for the bronze. Jackson, who came out of a six-year retirement and played her first major tournament since the 2012 Olympics, had her best scoring performance since the 2008 Olympics.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

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The U.S. women’s basketball team won its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headlined a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, included neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team had nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 60 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The U.S. beat China in the final, while host Australia took bronze to send 41-year-old Lauren Jackson into retirement.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), wasn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia 95, Canada 65 Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA 83, China 61 Gold-Medal Game