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Athletes who have been found with meldonium in their system could escape a ban after it emerged anti-doping officials are unaware how long it takes the drug to leave the body.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced last September that it was banning the Latvian-made heart disease medicine which had been shown to have performance-enhancing benefits.
The ban came into effect on January 1st and over 120 positive tests across multiple sports have been recorded.
The drug came into public prominence when Maria Sharapova announced she had failed a drugs test taken at the end of January and Russian athletes have made up the vast majority of offenders who have been caught.
However, there is confusion around how long the drug remains in a person’s system and WADA have recognised this in their latest guidelines.
"There is currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times," WADA said in the new guidance which was published on Monday.
"For this reason, a hearing panel might justifiably find (unless there is specific evidence to the contrary) that an athlete who has established on the balance of probabilities that he or she ingested meldonium before 1 January could not reasonably have known or suspected that the meldonium would still be present in his or her body on or after 1 January.
"In these circumstances, Wada considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete."
Wada's new guidance acknowledges that trace elements of meldonium can remain in the body "for a few months" if somebody has been taking the drug for a sustained period.
Sharapova, for example, says she had been using it for a decade to treat a variety of health conditions, some of which weren’t linked to the drug’s benefits previously.
The Russian media and sports media have reacted to the developments positively, hinting it was vindication for what they saw as their athletes – drawn from tennis, speed skating, boxing and swimming, as well as athletics – being harshly treated.
In a statement the Russian Sports Ministry said it "supports and welcomes the decision made by Wada because it has showed a willingness to understand the situation, rather than stick to the rulebook."