April 4, 2016 / 5:56 AM / 2 years ago

Sharapova positive test sparks renewed vigilance in NZ

AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Athletes in New Zealand have become more vigilant about the medication and supplements they take in the wake of Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova’s positive test, Drug Free Sports New Zealand (DFSNZ) said on Monday.

Mar 7, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Maria Sharapova speaks to the media announcing a failed drug test after the Australian Open during a press conference today at The LA Hotel Downtown. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The five-times grand slam champion announced in March she had tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Sharapova said she had been unaware that it had been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) from Jan. 1. Since then, more than 100 athletes across a variety of sports have been found to have used it.

“It is sad that a famous athlete has been caught out in this way, but the good outcome for us is that it has helped get our message across to athletes that they need to check all medications and supplements carefully,” Drug Free Sports New Zealand (DFSNZ) Chief Executive Graeme Steel said on Monday.

DFSNZ is a government body that implements the World Anti-Doping Code in New Zealand.

Athletes were using the organization’s website and telephone and email channels to check everything from cold sore cream to asthma medication, he added.

DFSNZ said in the two weeks prior to Sharapova’s announcement they had received 961 queries about medication and another 339 about supplements through the website.

In the two weeks after the announcement, those figures had more than doubled to 1,982 queries about medication and 581 for supplements.

The request rate for information through DFSNZ’s text and email service had also significantly increased they added.

A spokesperson told Reuters they typically received only three or four requests a day via email and text messaging, but that had increased to more than 20 per day.

“We’ve invested a lot of resources into ensuring that our athletes, parents and support personnel here in New Zealand have access to the most up-to-date information on banned substances and supplements,” Steel added.

“It’s about education and access to information so that athletes aren’t caught unintentionally taking a banned substance, which could ultimately affect their health and their careers.”

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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