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Maria Sharapova's lawyer calls for anti-doping system reform after meldonium ban reduced

ABC News logo ABC News 5/10/2016 Tracey Holmes

John Haggerty, Sharapova's Pennsylvania-based lawyer, says sports bodies are failing athletes. © Maria Sharapova John Haggerty, Sharapova's Pennsylvania-based lawyer, says sports bodies are failing athletes. Maria Sharapova's lawyer has called for reform of the world anti-doping system following the tennis star's reduction in her suspension for taking the banned substance meldonium.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced Sharapova's ban to 15 months and was scathing of the International Tennis Federation's (ITF) original findings.

"The Panel has determined it does not agree with many of the conclusions of the (ITF) Tribunal," the CAS said in its verdict.

"The Panel finds ... no specific warning had been issued by the relevant organisations (WADA, ITF or WTA) as to the change in the status of meldonium."

John Haggerty, Sharapova's Pennsylvania-based lawyer, says sports bodies are failing athletes.

"I think WADA didn't do their proper testing and homework in putting meldonium on the prohibited list, they certainly didn't do any homework with regard to excretion levels and how long it takes to get out of the body," he said.

"I think that WADA, the ITF and the WTA did a very poor job in providing notice about the substance being added to the prohibited list."

Mr Haggerty argued that Sharapova would not be in her current position at all if she had been an athlete of numerous other sports - such as figure skating, football and athletics - that were proactive in warning their athletes of meldonium's addition to the WADA banned list with several notifications via email, social media and clearly visible on their websites.

"These types of things are very important to athletes because in in Maria's case, where she made an honest mistake and didn't check the list, she'll miss one and a quarter seasons and in an athlete's career that's a lot of time, so the more these organisations can do to protect and provide notice to athletes, the better."

Given further leaks by Russian-based hackers Fancy Bears, revea the use of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE) enabling many high profile athletes to legitimately use banned substances, Mr Haggerty was asked whether Sharapova could have avoided a suspension altogether by obtaining a TUE.

"If Maria had been aware that [meldonium] was going on the prohibited list she could have applied for a TUE to see if she could continue to use it while playing," he said.

"Of course, if that TUE request was denied she would have stopped using it and found an alternative medication to use in place of it." Regardless of the CAS decision many will still see Sharapova as a drug cheat, which could potentially impact on her sponsorship and earnings capabilities - a position her lawyer says is inconsistent with the facts.

"I hope anybody who would think to say things like that before they did so would read the CAS decision and in that they will see, in very clear language, Maria did not cheat, she is not an intentional doper," he said.

"This was an inadvertent administrative mistake that her agent did not check the list and that she was taking this medication for a decade for medical purposes recommended by her doctor starting when she was aged 18.

"If you take those things into account and you read the CAS decision, which could not have been more strong on those points, I find it hard to see how you could come away thinking Maria was anything other than the upstanding, high integrity, hard working athlete she is."

What is meldonium?

Also known as Mildronate, it is used to treat angina and myocardial infarction

Manufactured and marketed by Latvian company Grindeks

Used in Russia and Lithuania, but not approved by USA's Food and Drug Administration

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