With the recent acknowledgement that 99 athletes tested positive for meldonium since it officially became a banned substance on Jan. 1, The World Anti-Doping Agency appears headed for a crisis. The drug first entered the news cycle when Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova admitted she failed a drug test at the Australian Open.
Sharapova had been taking meldonium for about 10 years, and she said it was because her doctor recommended it for various health issues unrelated to her tennis career. But meldonium's primary function is improving blood flow, thus giving its benefactor more endurance and better muscle function.
As a result, WADA President Craig Reedie indicated the agency could open numerous investigations in a number of international sports to try and find out if - and to what degree - its athletes have used meldonium. Since the drug is manufactured in Latvia, WADA has reason to believe meldonium is most commonly used in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe.
However, WADA's athletes committee wants the investigation to fan out to other sports and countries.
"We are of the firm opinion that there needs to be further investigation into other sports in Russia, and other countries identified in the report," read a letter from WADA's athletes committee chair Beckie Scott.
Scott's letter referenced a WADA report from November that detailed an investigation of a possible doping conspiracy within Russia's track and field team. The inquiry resulted in the team being banned from the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"Since November, we have received many calls and requests from athletes and athlete committees, from many sports, across many nations, for the same," read Scott's letter. "Today we considered those, and have again reviewed the detailed content of the report issued in November, during an in-camera session.
"Many comments and statements within the report indicate that other sports and countries are implicated, and as such, require further investigation."
Though meldonium has been relatively unknown to most of the world, it has not gone unnoticed. The United States Anti-Doping Agency identified it as a potential performance-enhancer at a conference in October of 2014. Not only was it seen as an area of concern for international competition, it was also generally accepted that athletes were already taking advantage of it being perfectly legal to use.
"Ninety-nine is an extraordinary number to get in that short a period," said Richard Ings, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's former chief executive.