Maria Sharapova and her team were “reckless beyond description” in failing a drug test at the Australian Open, according to the World Anti Doping Agency’s first president, Dick Pound.
Pound, who last year oversaw the Wada-commissioned independent review that led to Russia being banned from athletics for systemic doping, said the five-times Grand Slam winner had made a “big mistake” in continuing to take the banned substance meldonium after it was banned in January.
“You are taking something on a list. I am sorry, that is a big mistake – of course she should have known,” said Pound, who was head of Wada from 1999 to 2007.
“She is taking something that is not generally permitted in her country of residence [the US] for medical purposes, so she says, so there must be a doctor following this,” he told the BBC.
Wada had placed meldonium on its watch list for 2015. It then notified athletes at the end of September that the substance would be added to the banned list for 2016 following further research that suggested it was being used to enhance performance.
“Anytime there is a change to the list notice is given on 30 September prior to the change. You have October, November, December to get off what you are doing,” said Pound.
“All the tennis players were given notification of it and she has a medical team somewhere. That is reckless beyond description.”
Pound, who is in London to speak at the Tackling Doping in Sport conference alongside the current Wada president, Sir Craig Reedie, said drugs such as meldonium were not supposed to be taken for long periods.
Sharapova said at a press conference on Monday she was first prescribed the drug in 2006 and failed a test in January at the Australian Open.
“Most of the drugs of choice for dopers were built for therapeutic reasons – like EPO and others. That was supposed to regenerate blood if you had cancer treatment or surgical intervention if you needed to increase blood supply,” said Pound.
“Someone has said: ‘Hmm, more oxygen in the blood? Hmm, very interesting. Let’s see if we can use it for that purpose.’”
Wada said on Tuesday it would await the result of the International Tennis Federation’s results’ management process but that it reserved the right to appeal to the court of arbitration for sport if it felt the sanction was too lenient. The ITF has said the Russian will be provisionally suspended from 12 March.
The standard sanction for a first offence is four years under the Wada code, though that could be reduced to two years if Sharapova can prove she was not at fault.
Don Catlin, one of the founders of modern drug-testing, said the Sharapova case was a “huge wake-up call” for tennis and that anti-doping, which is run by the ITF, had to be fully independent.
“I say that automatically [of any sport],” the American told The Guardian. “It’s a terrible problem because they are trying to defend their sport and their athletes and so the last thing they want is a positive test. Sometimes, as in the case of Sharapova, there is nothing they can do about it. The athlete is too big and too well-known.”
In the wake of the crisis in athletics there has been a renewed debate about whether all drug testing should be removed from international federations to avoid conflicts of interest.
Catlin confirmed meldonium is not available in the US – “it’s not approved for human use by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration)” – and said he did not know how Sharapova had allowed a positive test to happen.
“It was banned last September and she should have known that. Sadly many athletes don’t. They just wake up one day, they find they have a positive test, they scramble around, finally figure out what it is and then kick themselves for not having known it.”
This article was written by Owen Gibson and Simon Cambers, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 8th March 2016 23.06 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010