A leading Australian sports doctor says he expects tennis star Maria Sharapova to be banned for at least two years for using a prohibited drug at the Australian Open.Sharapova has announced that she failed a test for the banned anti-ischemia drug Mildronate, also known as meldonium.
Just how much impact the drug has on elite performance is unclear, but Dr Brukner, a professor of sports medicine at La Trobe University, said "it's clearly been used for that reason" by some athletes.
Dr Brukner said he expected Sharapova to spend at least two years on the sidelines but did not rule out the possibility of her being slapped with the maximum four-year ban.
"You can get some remittance from that for inadvertent use, but it is arguable whether this was inadvertent," he told ABC News.
|Maria Sharapova can expect at least a two-year drug ban, leading sports doctor Peter Brukner says|
"The fact she may not have known it was banned probably won't qualify her for that [leeway for inadvertent use].
"I think she is in for a long suspension."
He suggested Sharapova may have only known the drug by its brand name, but that oversight would be naive as its presence on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) 2016 prohibited list was known as early as mid-September 2015.
WADA's 2016 list of prohibited substances and methods was approved on September 15 last year and officially released on September 29, with meldonium added because of "evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance".
Meldonium, which had been monitored by WADA for some time, was included on the 2016 prohibited list, which took effect on January 1, as a banned hormone and metabolic modulator.
Russia's embattled anti-doping agency, RUSADA, published a statement specifically pertaining to meldonium on its website on September 30, 2015.
"Dear colleagues! Please take a note that from the 1st of January 2016, meldonium (Mildronate) will be prohibited both in in-completion and in out-of-competition period," the statement read.
What is meldonium?
- Also known as Mildronate, it is used to treat angina and myocardial infarction.
- Manufactured and marketed by Latvian company Grindeks.
- Used in Russia and Lithuania, but not approved by USA's Food and Drug Administration.
"Athletes must stop taking this substance in advance, as of the 1st of January 2016 the detection of this substance in the athlete's sample would be considered as an anti-doping rules violation."
Though it is intended for use by patients with heart problems, the drug can reportedly improve exercise capacity in healthy athletes, giving them an unfair advantage.
Around the same time it was announced meldonium would join the prohibited list, WADA copped flak for failing to ban thyroid medication, despite calls from US and UK anti-doping agencies.
"The use of thyroid medication without a medical need clearly goes against the spirit of sport," British 10,000m European champion Jo Pavey said in October.