The Sharapova Case – Is Russian Football Next?

Tuesday, Maria Sharapova admitted to failing a doping test.

Tuesday, Maria Sharapova admitted to failing a doping test.

Monday, one of the most famous tennis players in the world, Maria Sharapova, announced that she failed a doping test during the Australian Open tournament earlier this year. She is now facing a four-year ban for taking the drug meldonium, which was included on the list of prohibited drugs on January 1, 2016. Sharapova is the latest athlete from the former Soviet Union to be caught for using the drug.

Meldonium is known to be popular in the post-Soviet space, which the list of names caught using the now prohibited drug also proves: biathletes Olga Abramova and Artem Tyshchenko from Ukraine, road bicycle racer Eduard Varganov from Russia and Russian icedancer Ekaterina Bobrava as well as six Georgian wrestlers.

Evgeny Slyusarenko, who wrote about meldonium on in October last year, backs up that claim. According to Slyusarenko the drugs are produced in Latvia from where they are distributed to the rest of the former Soviet Union. In October, Slyusarenko predicted massive bans of Russian sportsmen, whom he named the main target of the decision to include eldonium on the list: “Meldonium is a placebo at best,” Slyusarenko wrote,” At worst it is a vitamin. WADA included it in the S4 category (hormone and metabolic modulators). It means that it is possible to ban for 4 years for its usage. Given the prevalence of the drug in Russia, there will probably be absurd cases, when a promising career will be interrupted because of the vitamins.”

The words about its popularity were confirmed by a football player. “Almost every doctor from the former Soviet Union included mildronate [Another name for meldonium] in the complex of drugs used during training camps and competitions,” Evgeniy Kirisov, who currently plays for Luch-Energiya in the FNL, told Russian Football News.

So, can we expect any football players to be involved in cases like Sharapova’s?

Yegor Titov received a one year suspension in the beginning of 2004.

Yegor Titov received a one year suspension in the beginning of 2004.

Doping scandals are a rare thing in football, which would make it a big scandal if it happened, which it has done in the past. On November 15, 2003, Spartak legend Yegor Titov took a doping test after the Euro 2004 qualification play-off game between Russia and Wales. His blood sample was positive for bromantane, so Titov was banned from football for one year. In 2005, Russian journalist Igor Rabiner published an investigation into the case, where he revealed that all Spartak Moscow players were given Bromantane in 2003, although in the end it didn’t help much as the Red-Whites finished tenth in the league, the worst result for Spartak in Russian history. The players, who later decided to get the truth out, complained of feeling unwell while taking the prohibited pills.

The case only became public because Titov was a national team player, which sparked a lot of interest. So, how many doctors of Russian football teams gave their footballers doping? How many of them gave meldonium, missing the moment when it was prohibited, as Sharapova did? It is obvious that even the most inattentive man will now notice the hype. But how long does it take to get it out of the system?

Up to 3 months. It depends on the course,” Eduard Bezuglov, a doctor of the Russia national football team, told Russian Football News. It means that even if athletes stop using meldonium now, it could be in their blood until summer. Footballers participating in international competitions are in the firing line.

Zenit is the only Russian club still in Europe, but it is very unlikely that such a club would continue to use a medicine after a warning made by WADA last year. Even Spartak doesn’t make such mistakes. According to Spartak’s doctor Mikhail Vartapetov, they had been monitoring WADA news and found out about the prohibition of meldonium last autumn.

What about the national team of Russia, which is going to participate in Euro 2016 this June? The latest squad consisted of players from 10 different teams. Can we be sure that none of them were involved in some illegal improvement of performance like Titov was?

There will be no problems with that in the national team. All players were warned in advance,” Bezuglov told Russian Football News. He also mentioned that none of the Russian football players he has worked with have used it because of its “futility”.

There are however those of a different opinion about the effects of the drug. Asked about meldonium, Kim Højgaard Ravn from Anti Doping Denmark told TV3 Sport that: “The medicine is developed for sick people, but using it on a healthy person, which some athletes seem to be doing, will increase stamina. You can simply work for a longer time. Furthermore, it can give a quicker recovery, which can be very relevant for many top athletes.” Increased stamina and recovery would obviously help football players a lot, especially those competing in many different competitions.

It looks like many Russian athletes still use it. Yesterday, there were reports of positive drug tests for meldonium of Russian national volleyball team player Aleksandr Markin, five-time world champion speed-skater Pavel Kulizhnikov and Olympic champion in short track speed skating Semyon Elistratov.

If a volleyball player can get caught, all other team sports, including football, will be on the line.


Follow Ilya on Twitter: @Lokosokol

Author: Ilya Sokolov

I became interested in football after the 1998 World Cup. Despite my dad wanting me to support Dynamo, I chose Lokomotiv (the name sounded great) and soon saw the team win the league for the first time in its history. Besides Loko, I also like watching Amateur League games in Moscow and its suburbs.

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