A total of 27 Russian sportspeople have failed drugs tests for meldonium, the country’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko has revealed today.
Mutko, a leading critic of the investigations launched into systematic doping in athletics and swimming within the country, told R-Sport that the 27 were part of “127 cases around the world” involving the drug.
It was only added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list on January 1 and the organisation’s spokesperson Ben Nichols had claimed that the number of worldwide meldonium cases since stood at 123 yesterday.
Developed in Latvia, meldonium was moved from the monitored to the prohibited list by WADA due to “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance”.
The drug hit the headlines when five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova of Russia announced she had tested positive for the substance at the Australian Open in January at a press conference on March 7.
One of the most high-profile Russian athletes to have failed a test because of meldonium use is swimmer Yuliya Efimova, a four-time world champion.
She won the 100 metres breaststroke title at last year's home World Championships in Kazan and is considered Russia's leading swimmer.
The 23-year-old claims to have taken meldonium for medical reasons and still hopes to compete at Rio 2016.
She has already served a 16-month ban for doping having failed for banned steroid DHEA in 2013 and is facing a lengthy suspension.
News of cases concerning Russian athletes has been constantly emerging since January 1.
Evgeny Saleev, a 2014 World Championship silver medallist in wrestling, was among five from the global superpower to be implicated, along with fellow wrestler Sergey Semenov and athletics trio Gulshat Fazletdinova, Andrey Minzhulin and Olga Vovk, earlier this week.
Others include speed skaters Pavel Kulizhnikov, Semyon Elistratov and Ekaterina Konstantinova, as well as ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova.
Wrestlers Evgeny Saleev and Sergey Semenov have reportedly tested positive for meldonium, along with athletes Nadezhda Kotlyarova, Gulshat Fazletdinova, Andrey Minzhulin and Olga Vovk.
Husband and wife rugby players Alexei Mikhaltsov and Alena Mikhaltsova have been provisionally suspended, while biathlete Eduard Latypov and volleyball player Alexander Markin are further Russian cases.
The country remains suspended from athletics after the All-Russia Athletic Federation were banned last November by the International Association of Athletics Federations following the WADA Independent Commission reports, which alleged the presence of a state-supported doping scheme in the nation.
A decision on their potential reinstatement is expected in May and if it is denied, they could miss out on competing at this year's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Mutko has today denied claims that the country's swimmers are part of a systematic doping programme as "false accusations" following reports in The Times newspaper.