MOSCOW (AP) — The International Biathlon Union will delay rulings on doping cases involving meldonium because it says there is no scientific consensus on how long it takes to leave the body, a decision which could set a precedent for dozens of cases worldwide.
There have been at least 123 doping cases involving meldonium since it became illegal on Jan. 1, most notably Maria Sharapova. Many of those accused claim the heart drug remained in their systems even though they stopped using it last year, when the World Anti-Doping Agency said it would be banned.
Cases against two Ukrainian biathletes who tested positive for meldonium are on hold after a "pilot study" from an expert appointed by the IBU disciplinary panel "contradicted the present state of literature on meldonium," the IBU said.
"The proceedings are suspended until the results of the scientific studies already initiated by WADA-accredited laboratories on the long-term pharmacokinetics of meldonium (mildronate) on healthy humans are available."
No time frame for the studies was given and the two Ukrainians, Olga Abramova and Artem Tyshchenko, remain provisionally suspended from competition. If other sporting bodies follow the IBU's lead, dozens of doping cases could be delayed until WADA studies are complete, with athletes suspended in the meantime.
WADA has not announced any new studies since meldonium was banned and did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the IBU statement.
Meldonium tablets bought by The Associated Press over the counter in Moscow come with documentation stating only that the half-life of the substance in the body is three to six hours, but the Latvian company which produces the drug told the AP last month that "elimination from the body may last for several months and depends on a variety of factors."
The World Anti-Doping Code's principle of strict liability means athletes can still be punished if they stopped using a banned substance before it was illegal. However, confusion over how long it remains in the body could be considered a potential mitigating factor.
Also Tuesday, Norwegian weightlifter Ruth Kasirye said she had tested positive after being treated with meldonium while receiving medical treatment in Uganda.
Kasirye, a former European silver medalist, said in a statement issued by a Norwegian law firm that she had neglected to notify officials of the treatment. The case comes four days before Norway hosts the European weightlifting championships.