U.S. sports leagues move to add Sharapova drug to banned list

Wed Mar 16, 2016 10:27am EDT
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By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) - Several major U.S. sports leagues are pushing to add the drug that led to a positive test for Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova to their banned list, but in many cases they will need player approval before they can hit that goal.

Sharapova, who last week revealed she had tested positive for the banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January, is facing suspension of up to four years by the International Tennis Federation.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) added meldonium to its banned substance list on Jan. 1 after concluding it improves blood flow and boosts exercise capacity. Most North American sports groups do not automatically follow WADA's list, and must in turn negotiate with unionized players to add any drugs to their respective banned lists.

The PGA Tour, the organizer of the main professional golf tours in North America, told Reuters it plans to add meldonium to its banned list, while Major League Baseball (MLB) said it has raised the issue with its players. The National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) all said they plan to explore a possible ban.

Only the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) and Major League Soccer banned the drug when WADA did.

The PGA Tour generally follows the WADA list with few exceptions, said Andy Levinson, vice president of anti-doping. Golf's banned list was last revised in October, prior to the start of the 2015-2016 season. "Meldonium will be added in the 2016 revision," he said.

Athletes who test positive for a banned drug face fines and suspensions. Any players who might argue they need meldonium for medical reasons can still apply for what most sports call a therapeutic-use exemption, which allows athletes who have a doctor's backing to take a banned substance with league approval.

Some experts said athletes may have a hard time proving their medical need for a drug sold only in a few former Soviet countries and not approved for use in western Europe or the United States.   Continued...

Mildronate (Meldonium) medication is pictured in the pharmacy in Saulkrasti, Latvia, March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins