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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Meldonium shattering Russian athletes including Maria Sharapova

On Women’s day, writing about women in Sport –  I wrote Serena Williams would feature on top, then about Ronda Jean Rousey,   then about the Russian who was at the centrestage by her looks and her game too ! …  the  five-time Grand Slam champion has so far won 35 WTA titles and in 2012 became just the sixth female player in the Open era to win the career Grand Slam, joining the sport’s legends: Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams.  More than all her on-court brilliance,  Maria Sharapova has been even better off the court. Sharapova was the world’s highest-paid female athlete last year for the 11th straight year with earnings of $29.7 million, including $23 million from endorsements and appearances.

Diva Maria Sharapova shocked the tennis world when she announced she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open. The media and fans were expecting a retirement announcement at a press conference that she had hastily called in Los Angeles, a rumour which Sharapova put to rest with a bit of gallows humor: “If I was going to announce my retirement, it would not be in a hotel with this fairly ugly carpet.” Sharapova said she had been taking the drug Meldonium for a decade for her health, and unbeknownst to Sharapova it was added to the WTA Tour’s banned list of substances on January 1.

The Tennis World was quick to react and criticise her.  Former tennis star Jennifer Capriati  slammed here in now-deleted Twitter posts, the 39-year-old retired player accused Sharapova of hiring doctors to 'get around the system', adding that she 'never opted to cheat'. Capriati then went on to insinuate that she would have been able to salvage her career, which ended in 2004, had she resorted to taking the same drug.
Maria is not alone ! Russia's Olympic athletics bid is in jeopardy after IAAF extends ban over doping scandal.  News reports state that Russia's ban from international athletics competition has been extended by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), raising fears the country might miss out on the Rio Olympics. A five-strong taskforce led by Norwegian Rune Andersen presented a report to the Sebastian Coe-headed IAAF Council, which administers the affairs of the association.

Meldonium was originally conceived as a drug for the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Its main effect was associated with slowing down the expansion zone of dead cells after the suffering of myocardial damage. It also improves blood flow in the ischemic cerebral cortex and reduces the frequency of angina attacks. However, it became popular among athletes for a different reason. Among other benefits, meldonium also increases intracellular metabolism and helps the body achieve increased endurance to high physical stress during exercise and to high neuropsychological stress during competitions. This is the reason that the WADA had decided to include meldonium as a doping drug.

At almost the same time Maria tested positive, another Russian athlete tested positive for meldonium. This substance was found in the system of figure skater Ekaterina Bobrova on Monday, March 7 who now, together with her partner Dmitri Soloviev, will miss the world skating championships to be held from March 28-April 3 in Boston in the U.S.  Additionally, in February 2016 Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov, was caught taking meldonium while competing on the Katyusha cycling team.

Vitaly Mutko, the Russian Minister of Sport, Tourism and Youth Policy was quick to call meldonium a “useless” drug that does “not give anything to athletes.” The WADA has placed this substance into the S4 category regulating hormones and modulators of metabolism. The maximum suspension for its use is four years.  In the 1990s, meldonium became popular among Russian athletes due to its low cost. At that time it was practically the only drug that athletes could afford, given the poor overall economic situation in the country.

The drug that has been banned since January 2016 may lead to the disqualification of several leading Russian athletes in the wake of the Maria Sharapova scandal. However, Russian officials and athletics insiders disagree on who should take responsibility for the latest doping debacle to engulf Russian sports. Olympic champions Ekaterina Bobrova (figure skater), Semion Elistratov (short-track speed skater), world champion Pavel Kulizhnikov (speed skater), European champion Ekaterina Konstantinova (short-track) and two-time Universiade winner Alexander Markin (volleyball) have also tested positive for meldonium.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has blamed the current doping scandal on doctors and coaches. "We explained everything to everyone half a year ago. The federations, the coaches and the doctors must be more responsible," said the minister in an interview with R-Sport. Mutko also admitted that the national team doctors might have not read the updated list of banned drugs. The sports minister claimed that medical staff do not have time to follow WADA's updates due to the "enormous amount of work" with the athletes. However, athletics officials may also have to pay for the doping scandal. This is what Dmitri Nossov, a State Duma deputy and judo bronze medalist at the 2004 Olympics is insisting on. "Not one professional athlete will start taking something without his or her doctor and it is the federation directors that must control the doctors' activities," said Nossov. In his view, only the dismissal of the directors of the federations affected by the scandal will force everyone to think about the doping issue.

However, Alisher Aminov, vice president of the International Foundation of Support for Legal Initiatives, believes that Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko should be the one to resign. “The most effective way to overcome this dishonesty in Russian sport is to launch an independent public inquiry with the involvement of international organizations. Mutko must temporarily be removed from office until the end of the inquiry," he said.

At the same time, discussions are still raging in Russia about whether or not WADA's decision to ban meldonium is justified. Former Russian Olympic team doctor Zurab Ordzhonikidze thinks that the use of meldonium cannot be considered doping.  The numbers are alarming ! 4,027 is the number of Russian athletes included on the list of those banned from international competition, published on the official website of the International Association of Athletics Federation(IAAF) on Feb. 8 . The list is based on data obtained from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and has no exemptions: Among those excluded from competition are world-famous Olympians such as two-time Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion Yelena Isinbayeva, seen at the start, is regarded  as the greatest female pole-vaulter in history.

So lot brewing with what they called as useless drug : ‘meldonium’ shattering the dreams of many athletes.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
13th Mar 2016.

Inputs taken from RBTH ~ Russia Beyond The Headlines,  a multilingual news and information resource that offers news, comment, opinion and analysis on culture, politics, business, science, and public life in Russia. The resource is sponsored by the Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the Russian government’s official newspaper.

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