Sharapova Opens a Pandora’s Box

Following Maria Sharapova’s announcement that she had tested positive to the banned drug Meldonium, also known as Mildronate, most would have expected athletes to be running for their vitamin, supplement and prescription drug supplies to check that they did not have the banned substance. What is absolutely terrifying for those who advocate clean sporting contests, those without performance enhancing drugs, is that online suppliers of the drug ran out of stock within hours of Sharapova’s announcement.

It is believed that most of these sales were to wannabe amateurs who are seeking their own five minutes of fame. Which shows just how bad the current ‘win at all costs’ view of sport and life has become.

The World Anti Doping Agency confirmed on friday that there were another 99 positive tests for meldonium since it was added to the banned list in January. Sure some athletes may have been taking the drug for medicinal reasons, but so many?

Just to show the pulling power of a top athlete, the Wikipedia page for meldonium had only had 870 views before Sharapova’s announcement. Within 48 hours of her revelation that had jumped to 1.57million views!!!

Since the supplies have run out on line there are now growing fears for athletes purchasing similar substances such as Metaprot and Ladasten.

One thing that is interesting to find out is that one of the best websites for Athletes to check what they are taking is acceptable is Global DRO, which is operated by anti-doping agencies in the UK, USA, Canada and Japan. In the past week it was reported that the five most popular searches on the site were not surprisingly meldonium, cocaine, ibuprofen, cannabis and paracetemol. The webiste bills itself as being ‘The Real World’s Prohibited List,’ and is certainly a great place to go for any parent who is worried about any supplement their aspiring child may be taking.

What is a concern to many is the claim that Sharapova was warned five times about taking meldonium, a claim that she has denied. Many feeling that the World Tennis Association is as guilty as other sports in turning a blind eye when its top athletes are caught taking an illegal substance, worried that the fall out will be catastrophic.

It will be interesting to see if there is a backlash against one of Sharapova’s sponsors, racquet manufacturer, Head. They have taken a huge risk by extending the contract of the Russian star, at a time when her other major sponsors such as Tag Heuer, Porsche and Nike were withdrawing or putting their support on hold.

Head in an official statement backed their star, but then amazingly questioned the World Anti Doping Agency, when they said “In the absence of any evidence of any intent by Maria of enhancing her performance or trying to gain an unfair advantage through the use of mildronate (another name for meldonium), we conclude this falls into the category of ‘honest’ mistakes. Furthermore, we question WADA’s decision to add meldonium to its banned substances; we believe the correct action by WADA would have been to impose a dosage limitation only. In the circumstances, we would encourage WADA to release scientific studies which validates its claim that meldonium should be a banned substance.”

Andy Murray who is also sponsored by Head in a deal reportedly worth UKL5 million (USD$9.8 million) a year, plus bonuses for winning leading titles bravely came out and said “I think it’s a strange stance. I personally wouldn’t have responded like that. I think taking a prescription drug that you don’t necessarily need, but just because it’s legal, that’s wrong, clearly. If you’re taking performance-enhancing drugs and you fail a drug test, you have to get suspended.”

Murray also claimed he felt that not enough was bing done to catch those who try to gain an illegal advantage at the highest level where margins are so finite, and the rewards so great.

It would appear he is right, but it would also appear that sporting bodies are soon going to have to start extending their vigilance to the semi professional or even amateur ranks if on-line sales post Sharapova’s announcement are any form of guideline.

These are very sad days for sport at all levels.

Sharapova Opens a Pandora’s Box
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