WADA announces meldonium amnesty but Maria Sharapova's ban unlikely to be affected
The World Anti-Doping Agency has given a potential lifeline to athletes who have tested positive for meldonium after admitting it is not clear how long it takes the drug to leave the body.
Meldonium was added to the banned list at the start of 2016 and so far more than 100 sportsmen and women have failed tests for it.
Studies are currently being conducted into the renal elimination of the drug and WADA has issued new guidelines that could see some athletes cleared.
WADA said that, based on the preliminary results of those studies, meldonium could be detectable for several months after it had last been ingested.
WADA said: "In the case of meldonium, there is currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times.
"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 2016 could not reasonably have known or suspected that the meldonium would still be present in his or her body on or after 1 January 2016.
"In these circumstances, WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete."
If the amount of meldonium detected was less than one microgram per millilitre, athletes could be cleared of blame, while the same applies if the sample was taken before March 1 and the concentration was between one and 15 micrograms.
Tennis star Maria Sharapova is the highest-profile athlete to have tested positive but whether this new guidance will help her case appears doubtful given she admitted not knowing meldonium had become a banned substance.
Sharapova is serving a provisional suspension after testing positive at the Australian Open in January.
Russian swimmer Yuliya Efimova, Swedish runner Abeba Aregawi and Russian Olympic speed-skating champion Semion Elistratov are among the other athletes to have failed tests.
The Russian Sports Ministry gave its reaction in a statement reported by rt.com, saying: "The Russian Sports Ministry supports and welcomes the decision made by WADA because it has showed a willingness to understand the situation, rather than stick to the rulebook.
"They were ready to study how long it would take for meldonium to be eliminated from the body of an athlete.
"WADA has sent recommendations to all the anti-doping organisations, which will allow them to make fair decisions based on the actual guilt of an athlete. In doing so, WADA has demonstrated impartiality and being objective in the fight against doping."