Two days after news broke that the U17 Russian team would be replacing the U18 squad at the U18 World Championships due to a meldonium doping scandal, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation (RIHF) has acknowledged that the swap was made in order to “protect the athletes.”
The official statement from the RIHF says that players training with the U18 have used mildronate, which is the trade-name for meldonium, “as to protect the heart muscle in periods of high exertion. Supplies of the drug were carried out officially in accordance with the Federal Medical-Biology agency.”
However, the RIHF said reports that as many as half of the Russian U18 team tested positive for meldonium are false, and said the players have not been using the drug since fall 2015, when the World Anti-Doping Agency made the decision to add meldonium to the banned substances list. That ban took effect Jan. 1.
Even though players have not been using the drug since the fall, according to the RIHF, the Ministry of Sport made the decision to swap the U18 team for the U17 club because of reported data from “the world’s leading laboratories.”
The RIHF stated that according to the data, the time necessary for meldonium to pass through the system is longer than first believed. No comment was made by the RIHF regarding the longer timeframe and whether it meant athletes at the U18 could have tested positive for meldonium at the World Championship, but comments by Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko suggest the RIHF didn’t want to risk the disqualification.
"If an athlete or a group of athletes used meldonium in October-November, we don’t know whether its traces will be found or not,” Mutko said, via TASS. "We are not avoiding responsibility. We simply don’t know what will happen if an athlete goes to an international tournament. We are simply minimizing [the possible] risks. Whether we speak about an ice hockey team or any other athlete, one should realize a simple thing that it is incorrect to [bluntly] state that a drug’s presence had been revealed in the system of athletes from the youth or women’s teams.”
Mutko said meldonium can be “excreted from the body up to a year,” and added that some players may have been taking the substance for up to two years leading up to the ban, according to AllHockey.ru.
Among players who will miss the tournament due to the meldonium doping scandal is German Rubtsov, who was projected to be a mid-first-round pick in the upcoming draft. The Globe and Mail's James Mirtle reported Thursday that the scandal could hurt the draft stock of a number of players on the U18 squad.
“It definitely hurts [their draft ranking] from my standpoint,” Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray told Mirtle. “I’ve only seen Rubstov once and others zero times. My scouts have seen them, but a late, positive viewing goes a long way. It’s human nature.”
WADA banned the drug after monitoring it for a full year. Debate continues about the effectiveness of meldonium in actually enhancing an athletes performance, WADA’s ban came into place because “of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance,” the organization said following a positive test for meldonium by tennis star Maria Sharapova. It belongs to the S4 class of banned substances, listed as “hormone and metabolic modulators.”