September 21, 2023

Open Court


Four-year doping suspension for Simona Halep

Halep at the 2022 Australian Open

A year and a day after former No. 1 Simona Halep was officially charged with two doping violations following a test at the US Open, a sentence was finally handed down by the International Tennis Integrity Agency.

The ban is for four years from the date of her provisional suspension last Oct. 7. So it would expire on Oct. 6, 2026, when she will be 34 years old.

Halep, who has steadfastly maintained her innocence throughout, intends to appeal the ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Here is the statement issued by Halep a few hours later.

Basically, she throws the entire team picked for her by coach Patrick Mouratoglou under the bus. Pretty much.

The full decision, which is 126 pages long, can be found here.

“After a complex and rigorous hearing process, we welcome the independent tribunal’s decision,” was the comment from ITIA CEO Karen Moorhouse. “The volume of evidence for the tribunal to consider in both the roxadustat and ABP proceedings was substantial.”

The panel received “approximately 8,000 pages of scientific and other evidence from the player and the ITIA”.

After many delays – and many public appeals by Halep and her supporters – an independant tribunal convened June 28 and 29 in London and confirmed that the two anti-doping rules violations charged were committed.

According to the ITIA release, the panel heard from “expert scientific witnesses”, and from Halep herself.

The original charge, from a urine sample provided on Aug. 29, 2022 at the US Open was the “presence and use of Roxadustat”.

That substance is used for the treatment of anemia. But it is on the WADA prohibited list because it is considered a “blood doping agent”.

Added to that was a charge brought down in May, 2023 for the “use of a prohibited sustance of method during 2022, based on collection and analysis of 51 blood samples provided by the player as part of the ABP (Athlete Biological Passport) program.

It is notable that in her statement Tuesday, Halep says she “adjusted her nutritional supplements upon recommendation from her trusted team and physiotherapist”. But it had only been a few months since Halep, who had hired Mouratoglou as her new coach, completely turned herself over and away from the team of people who had worked with her for years.

Last fall, as she announced she was having nasal surgery to both help her breathing and “improve” its aesthetic and would end her season early to recuperate – she had tested positive at this point, but no one knew it yet – she said she trusted Mouratoglou 100 per cent. So she “wanted his people and only his people to be in charge of me.”

While likely a complete coincidence, Halep had never had any issues prior to this turnover. So that’s a tough look for them as well.

Mouratoglou also had a statement Tuesday.

The Romanian claims that two of the three in the expert group studying her biological passport “changed their opinion” to side with the ITIA once they had learned her identity.

The ITIA says in its statement that this is not the case.

“This process occurs on an anonymous basis, with the APMU and expert panel unaware of the identity of the individual in question until later in the process.  As such, at the point suspicions were raised over the player’s ABP with the ITIA, the APMU and expert panel of the Montreal WADA-accredited laboratory did not know that the passport information belonged to Simona Halep.”

“Contaminated supplement” argument upheld, but …

The panel accepted Halep’s testimony that she had taken a contaminated supplement. However, it determined that the volume of said supplement Halep said she ingested “could not have resulted” in the (presumably elevated) concentration found in the positive sample.

Halep’s contention was that the amount of the substance was an “extremely low quantity”.

So the two sides also disagree on this.

As for the biological passport charge, the tribunal stated that it had “no reason to doubt the unanimous ‘strong opinion’ reached by each of the three experts” that “likely doping” was the explanation for the irregularities on her blood.

Halep has been low-profile of late. But she issued statements on social media, two of them after the second, biological passport charge was levied in May.

As that second charge was added, Halep stated that her experts had proven that the positive test came because of a contaminated supplement, and claimed the ITIA “had come up with” the irregularities in her blood despite three experts she consulted saying her blood markers were “totally normal”.

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