Sports equipment and clothing manufacturer Head has backed Maria Sharapova over her use of meldonium.
Sharapova is set to face a hearing after testing positive for the banned substance, despite the recent admission by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that there is ‘currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times’ for the drug.
WADA confirmed earlier this week that athletes who tested positive for meldonium before 1 March could avoid bans, but the International Tennis Federation said Sharapova’s case will proceed.
Meldonium was added to banned substances list from January 1, with the Russian subsequently failing a test at January’s Australian Open.
Head chief executive and chairman, Johan Eliasch, said: “It is now quite clear that WADA made the decision to ban meldonium based solely upon the alleged prevalence of use among Eastern European and Russian athletes.”
“This highlights a wholly flawed decision-making process by WADA whereby the ban on meldonium has no justification.”
“Until clinical testing is undertaken to prove that meldonium has indeed performance-enhancing potential, WADA should provide amnesty to athletes who had been taking the drug at the direction of a doctor for a proven medical condition, if not all athletes.”
Over 170 athletes have tested positive for meldonium since it was added to the list, and with WADA admitting it’s uncertain how long the drug remains in the body support for Sharapova is growing.
Ex-Russian men’s tennis star Marat Safin has given his backing to his compatriot.
“I believe that Maria is a professional and a team of professionals is working with her,” he said.
“I also believe that some sort of a technical mistake could be behind her situation with meldonium.
“It takes meldonium quite some time to leave the body system, up to three months. Meldonium remained in the body systems of many Russian athletes, who tested positive for the drug.”
“Perhaps they consumed the drug in September or October. It all depends on the individual physical peculiarities of the body system of an athlete.”
“In some cases, meldonium dehydrated from the body system and in some it did not.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin has also criticized WADA for not properly researching meldonium to understand how much time the drug takes to leave the system.
When speaking on a phone-in on Russian television, the Russian president said “there was no proper data” available to WADA on meldonium use and that WADA moved too quickly to ban the drug.
While he did not think Russian athletes were being targeted by WADA, he re-iterated that meldonium was not a performance enhancing drug.
“This substance was never considered as doping,” Putin said. “It doesn’t influence the result. That’s totally certain. It just keeps the heart muscles in good condition under high load.”
With the meldonium case still hanging over Sharapova, she has chosen not to enter the upcoming 2016 French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros despite being listed as eligible to compete.
Sharapova hasn’t played since the Australian Open and her participation at the 2016 Olympics in Rio remains in doubt.
Despite support from elsewhere, the former world number one has seen other sponsors distance themselves from her, with TAG Heuer saying it wouldn’t seek to extend its sponsorship with the Russian even if she received an amnesty from WADA.
Sharapova’s previous contract with the Swiss watch maker expired on December 31 2015.