Maria Sharapova’s explanation for taking a banned drug may have just cost her a get-out-of-jail-free card

In March, Maria Sharapova shocked the sporting world when she admitted to taking meldonium, a banned substance, and failing a drug test that left her facing a suspension of at least two years. It turns out that that admission may have actually hurt her chances of avoiding a lengthy ban.

Sharapova’s positive test was one of 172 since meldonium was added to the banned-substance list by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on January 1, according to the BBC.

On Monday, WADA made an announcement that suggests some of these athletes may be able to avoid suspensions. It turns out that there are questions over how long the substance will remain in the body, and some athletes claim they stopped taking the drug in January and still failed the test.

“There is currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times,” WADA said in new guidance distributed on Monday, the BBC reported.

According to WADA, if the athletes can show that they “could not have known or suspected” that the drug would still be in their systems, then “WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete.”

While this could be a huge get-out-of-jail-free card for many of the athletes, Sharapova has a big problem. She has seemingly already admitted to taking meldonium since it became a banned substance, and won’t have access to the loophole.

Sharapova said during her press conference in March:

I did fail the test and I take full responsibility for it. For 10 years this medicine was not on WADA’s banned list, and I had legally been taking the medicine for the past 10 years. But on January 1, the rules had changed and meldonium had become a prohibited substance, which I had not known.

In other words, Sharapova is not arguing that the substance was just still in her body from usage before January 1, as other athletes have argued. Rather, she is arguing ignorance of the rules, that she did not read the emails with the updated list of banned substances.

She later added, “I made a huge mistake.”

The International Tennis Federation has yet to rule on Sharapova’s status, but it will be interesting to see what type of backlash it faces if many athletes are given a pass and Sharapova is not.

You can see her statement here:

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