Doping agency: 99 positive tests for sharapova drug
MOSCOW — The drug at the center of the Maria Sharapova doping case has produced 99 positive tests this year, the World Anti-Doping Agency said Friday. Agency spokesman Ben Nichols did not provide details of who has tested positive since meldonium was added to the banned list Jan. 1.
Meldonium, a blood-flow-boosting drug produced in Latvia, is most common in Eastern European and former Soviet countries, where it is often available over the counter. Seven of 16 confirmed cases come from Russian athletes, including Sharapova, who said Monday she tested positive at the Australian Open in January. Sharapova, 28 and who has lived in the United States since she was 7, said she has been taking meldonium for 10 years for various health issues and did not know it had been banned.
Other cases involve athletes from Ukraine, Georgia and Sweden. Sharapova is one of four Olympic medalists known to have tested positive. The others are Russian speedskater Semyon Elistratov, Russian ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova and Georgian wrestler Davit Modzmanashvili.
Athletes who fail doping tests can face a ban of up to four years for a first offense, but substantial reductions can be imposed if they demonstrate that they did not intend to enhance their performance. The World Anti-Doping Agency announced in September that meldonium would be banned, citing evidence of the drug's performance-enhancing benefits and wide use in international sports.
Venus loses opener in return to Indian Wells
Venus Williams returned to the BNP Paribas Open for the first time in 15 years and lost her opening match to Japanese qualifier Kurumi Nara 6-4, 6-3 at Indian Wells, Calif.
Each held serve before rain halted play at 3-all in the first set. When play resumed, it was difficult for both players to hold serve in gusty conditions, particularly Williams, seeded 10th. She lost her next five service games.
Serena Williams was set to face German qualifier Laura Siegemund to open the night session.
On the men's side, Gilles Muller beat Victor Estrella Burgos 7-5, 6-3 to set up a meeting with No. 4 seed Rafael Nadal.
Man U asks fans to not sing about tragedy
Manchester United said it is holding talks with fan groups in an effort to stop them from singing about soccer tragedies.
During a 2-0 loss to Liverpool in the Europa League on Thursday, United fans sang about the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster in which 96 Liverpool fans were killed in a crush of people during a game.
United — owned by the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs — said "chants of this nature, which refer to historical tragedies, have no place in the game."
More England: Steve McClaren was fired as manager of Newcastle, which was 19th in the 20-team Premier League, and replaced by Rafa Benitez, who was fired as Real Madrid coach in January. Benitez signed a three-year deal. … Crystal Palace continued its habit of winning in the FA Cup while struggling in the Premier League, beating second-tier Reading 2-0 in the quarterfinals. Palace last won in the Premier League on Dec. 19.
olympics: The United States will open the men's basketball tournament this summer against China and also will face Venezuela and Australia after being drawn into what appears to be the easier group for the Games in Rio de Janeiro. The Americans, who have won the past two gold medals, are in Group A, which will also include two teams that will be determined after three qualifying tournaments in July.
speedskating: Brittany Bowe of Ocala beat U.S. teammate Heather Richardson-Bergsma in the first of two women's 500 meter races at the World Cup finals in Heerenveen, Netherlands. Richardson-Bergsma is second in the season standings, behind China's Hong Zhang. Russia's Ruslan Murashov won the first men's 500 race. World Cup leader Pavel Kulizhnikov of Russian is missing the competition after testing positive for meldonium.