Sir Bradley Wiggins says there is “no excuse” for Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova testing positive for a banned substance at January’s Australian Open, and says the situation would not arise for riders supported by British Cycling due to the support they get from the governing body’s medical staff.
Sharapova, who in 2012 won the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam having previously triumphed at Wimbledon and the US and Australian Opens, revealed at a press conference in Los Angeles on Monday that she had tested positive for meldonium.
The 28-year-old insisted that she had been unaware that World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had added the drug, which she admits she has been using since 2006 to treat a medical condition, to its Prohibited List from 1 January this year.
The drug – not approved in the UK or US, and which WADA says can enhance sporting performance – is the same one that Sharapova’s compatriot, Katusha rider Edvard Vorganov, tested positive for in January.
Wiggins underlined however that it is the athlete’s responsibility to check that any substance they are taking does not contravene the rules, although he did say he was sympathetic to the position Sharapova – who has been swiftly dropped by sponsors including Nike – found herself in.
“I do have sympathy for her situation,” he told Sky News. “I feel sorry for her.
“But at the same time, there is no excuse for it because at the end of the day you’re responsible for everything you put in your body.
“You’re also responsible for checking there may be changes [to the Prohibited List] on the first of January.
“British Cycling are really on the ball – Richard Freeman, the doctor – in terms of things that have been changed, saying ‘please don’t use this anymore’.
“There’s no excuse for it in this day and age with the things that have gone on before,” continued Wiggins, who on Sunday won the Madison at the Track World Championships in London with Mark Cavendish.
“It isn’t an excuse anymore to say ‘I didn’t realise they’d changed the rules’,” he added.
Writing in the Guardian today on what he termed a “carefully crafted admission,” journalist Owen Gibson was rather more scathing in his opinion of the excuse given by someone who for more than a decade has been the highest paid woman in sport.
“As many have pointed out,” he commented, “it beggars belief that Sharapova and her huge entourage – all the machinery and accoutrements of modern sport from IMG to Nike, and her own medical and support staff – could have missed the fact that a drug she had been taking for a decade had been made illegal.”
Former WADA president Dick Pond told the BBC that Sharapova had been “reckless beyond belief” and that “she should have known” that meldonium is now banned.
While the drug is, or has been, widely used by athletes in Russia, a country whose track and field athletes are at the centre of a separate doping scandal, Pound noted: “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.
“Anytime there is a change to the list notice is given on 30 September prior to the change,” he went on. “You have October, November, December to get off what you are doing.
“All the tennis players were given notification of it and she has a medical team somewhere. That is reckless beyond description.”
The Latvia-based pharmaceutical firm Grindeks, which developed the drug, said: "Depending on the patient's health condition, treatment course of meldonium preparations may vary from four to six weeks.
"Treatment can be repeated twice or thrice a year. Only physicians can follow and evaluate patient's health condition and state whether the patient should use meldonium for a longer period of time."
The International Tennis Federation’s Tennis Anti-Doping Programme said in a statement on Monday that Sharapova “will be provisionally suspended with effect from 12 March, pending determination of the case.”
As a first-time offender, Sharapova could face a ban of up to four years in what is the highest profile doping case since Lance Armstrong was banned from sport for life and stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, and one that could have greater repercussions.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.