Monday 20 November 2017

Latvia 'saddened' over Meldonium sports ban, describes drug as one of its 'most significant accomplishments'

Tennis star Maria Sharapova announced she tested positive for Meldonium in Jaunary following its ban. Credit: Gonzalo Fuentes (REUTERS)
Tennis star Maria Sharapova announced she tested positive for Meldonium in Jaunary following its ban. Credit: Gonzalo Fuentes (REUTERS)

Nerijus Adomaitis

Latvia has expressed sadness over the banning the sports ban on Meldonium, the drug that has cast a pall over the career of tennis star Maria Sharapova, describing it as "one of the most significant accomplishments" of the tiny nation.

Ms Sharapova, a five-time grand slam champion, revealed she tested positive in January for the drug, which its Latvian inventor once said had been used to toughen up Soviet troops fighting at high altitudes three decades ago.

Read More: Novak Djokovic: I hope Maria Sharapova gets out of this stronger

Latvia, a Baltic nation of under 2 million people that won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is relatively unknown to outsiders apart from visitors who use the capital Riga as a destination for partying.

Meldonium, which is marketed as Mildronate by the Latvian pharmaceutical firm Grindeks, is a source of some national pride for the tiny country.

Read More: 18-time Grand Slam winner Chris Evert surprised by lack of support for Maria Sharapova

"It's sad that there is such a situation, that this drug has been banned," said Andrejs Vaivars, a spokesman for Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis.

"Especially given that is one of the most significant accomplishments of Latvian scientists in general."

Meldonium, which is available cheaply over the counter without a prescription in the Baltic states and Sharapova's native Russia, is normally used to treat heart conditions such as angina.

But the drug, which boosts blood flow and may enhance athletic performance, was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as of January 1 2016.

Read More: Almost 500 athletes may have been taking meldonium during 2015 European Games in Baku

Ms Sharapova said she had missed an email informing her about the ban.

Scientist Ivars Kalvins invented the drug in mid-1970s when Latvia was still a Soviet republic.

At that time Soviet forces were battling insurgents in Afghanistan and many soldiers were given the drug.

"There are high mountain conditions, lack of oxygen," Mr Kalvins said.

"They were all given Mildronate. They didn't know what they were using themselves. Nobody asked them anything back there."

Read More: Clouds gather over Maria Sharapova as experts query use of meldonium

Kirovs Lipmans, chairman of Grindeks and its biggest shareholder, said use of the drug did not constitute doping and he criticised the government for not defending its reputation against WADA.

"The government is not fighting against it, it is not doing anything, they are absolutely not interested in this. How can they act like that?"

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