The biggest doping scandal in hockey history has reportedly hit the Russian under-18 squad the day before they were set to depart for Grand Forks, N.D., to play in 2016 U18 World Championships, which begin next week.
According to AllHockey.ru, a large portion of the Russian U18 squad has tested positive for meldonium, which was added to the banned substances list by the World Anit-Doping Agency as of Jan. 1, 2016. Shortly after the news broke, U18 coach Vitaly Prokhorov told R-Sport the “team will change,” and added he had been fired by the Minister of Sport and would not be with the club at the competition.
Along with speculation that the U17 squad would take the U18 team’s place in Grand Forks, the U18 roster was erased from the team’s website. And though the Russian Hockey Federation hasn’t made an official statement regarding the reports, Russian U17 coach Sergey Golubovic confirmed to R-Sport, via Slava Malamud, that it would be his club travelling to North Dakota for the tournament in place of the U18 team.
According to R-Sport, the IIHF has stated that Russia has “up to two hours before the first meeting of the Directorate of the tournament, so at the moment they have the full right to decide whom to bring to the tournament.” With the U18 team replaced, German Rubtsov is among the players who will miss the World Championship. Rubtsov is believed to be one of the top Russian prospects in the 2016 draft and could be selected as early as the mid-first round.
WADA spent a full year monitoring the drug before officially deciding to add it to the banned substance list back in September 2015, according the The Guardian, and Russia’s anti-doping agency reportedly sent athletes a memo in September about the upcoming ban on the substance. WADA classifies meldonium as a hormone or metabolic modulator.
The New York Times reported the drug, medically used to help blood flow, can help increase oxygen intake and aid in recovery times. In that same report, Russian ski-jumping physician Sergei Sheremetiev told the New York Times that, “(until WADA) banned it, we used it in many types of sport: hockey, skiing — in those where there’s pretty serious strain.”
There’s debate about meldonium’s effectiveness, but WADA banned the substance in part because “of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance,” the organization said in a statement last month.
This is the first meldonium scandal of this proportion. According to USA Today, at least 140 athletes have tested positive for meldonium, with the highest profile case being that of tennis star Maria Sharapova. Sharapova announced she failed drug tests at the Australian Open, and said she has been taking the drug since 2006. Beyond Sharapova, Slava Malamud reported Russia’s volleyball team changed its roster ahead of a major tournament, and the Russian men’s curling team altered its roster ahead of the World Championship, which is currently being played Switzerland.