Simona Halep presented her defense against doping charges.
An independent tribunal accepted her explanation of a contaminated supplement, but found “likely doping” as the cause of her positive tests.
Consequently, former world No. 1 Halep has been hit with a four-year suspension from tennis after being found guilty of two doping violations, the International Tennis Integrity Agency announced today.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Halep has been provisionally suspended since October 2022, which the tribunal credited against the ruling of ineligibility.
Halep’s suspension will run from October 7, 2022 until October 6, 2026.
In a statement issued today, Halep said she is “shocked and disappointed” by the tribunal’s decision and vows to appeal to The Court of Arbitration for Sport and “pursue all legal remedies against the supplement company in question.”
Simona Halep’s Statement on Four-Year Suspension
“I have taken 200 blood and urine tests to check for prohibited substances – all of which have been clean, until August 29, 2022,” Halep said. “Ahead of the hard court season in 2022, upon recommendation from my trusted team and physiotherapist, I adjusted my nutritional supplements.
“None of the listed ingredients included any prohibited substances however we now know – and the tribunal agreed – one of them was contaminated with roxadustat. I was tested almost weekly after my initial positive test through early 2023, all of which came back negative. Despite this evidence, the ITIA brought an ABP charge only after its expert group learned my identity, causing two out of three to suddenly change their opinion in favor of ITIA’s allegations.”
In a statement released last spring, Halep said she is the victim of a contaminated supplement. and said “three world renowned experts” have “clearly established that I have been the victim of a contamination.”
“Once again, all my life I have been totally against any sort of cheating,” Halep said.
The 31-year-old Halep was charged with two separate doping violations.
The first related to an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) for the prohibited substance roxadustat at the US Open in 2022, carried out through regular urine testing during competition.
The second charge related to irregularities in Halep’s Athlete Biological Passport (ABP).
The independent tribunal met June 28-29th in London, and heard from expert scientific witnesses on behalf of Halep and the ITIA, with the player also giving evidence directly to the panel as part of proceedings.
On September 11th, 2023, the tribunal confirmed it ruled Halep “had committed intentional Anti-Doping Rule Violations under Article 2 of the TADP: The presence and use of roxadustat as evidenced in Halep’s urine sample collected on 29 August 2022 at the US Open Use of a prohibited substance or method during 2022, based on collection and analysis of 51 blood samples provided by the player as part of the ABP program.”
The tribunal accepted Halep’s argument that she had taken a contaminated supplement, but determined the volume the player ingested could not have resulted in the concentration of roxadustat found in the positive sample.
The tribunal also said it had no reason to doubt the unanimous “strong opinion” reached by each of the three independent Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU) experts that “likely doping” was the explanation for the irregularities in Halep’s profile.
Karen Moorhouse, Chief Executive Officer at the ITIA, issued this statement on Halep’s case:
“After a complex and rigorous hearing process, we welcome the independent tribunal’s decision.
“The volume of evidence for the tribunal to consider in both the roxadustat and ABP proceedings was substantial. “The ITIA has followed the proper processes as we would with any other individual – in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code – fulfilling our purpose and responsibility to uphold the principle of fair competition, on behalf of the sport. The panel recognized that appropriate procedure had been followed within the written decision.
“We do understand the significant public interest in these cases and remain committed to being as transparent as possible and the full decision will be published in due course.”
Initially, Halep was provisionally suspended after testing positive for a banned substance at the 2022 US Open. Halep submitted a urine sample that tested positive for Roxadustat at the Flushing Meadows major. Halep requested her B sample be tested. Subsequent testing showed that B sample also contained the banned substance.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Halep vehemently denies she knowingly doped calling her positive test “the biggest shock of my life.”
“I will fight until the end to prove that I never knowingly took any prohibited substance and I have faith that sooner or later the truth will come out,” Halep posted on Instagram.