Simona Halep is suspended for four years by ITIA. The 31-year-old Romanian “committed intentional anti-doping rule violations” by failing a drug test during the 2022 U.S. Open and for irregularities in her Athlete Biological Passport, the ITIA said. Halep, who plans to appeal the ruling, had been provisionally suspended since October 2022.
The independent tribunal, established by Sport Resolutions, convened on June 28 and 29, 2023, in London, and heard expert witnesses on behalf of Halep and ITIA. The player also provided testimony directly to the commission during the proceedings.
On September 11, 2023, the tribunal confirmed that it had found that the player had committed intentional violations of anti-doping rules under Article 2 of the TADP:
- The presence and use of Roxadustat, as evidenced in Halep’s urine sample collected on August 29, 2022, at the US Open.
- The use of a prohibited substance or method during the year 2022, based on the collection and analysis of 51 blood samples provided by the player as part of the ABP (biological passport).
According to the press release issued by ITIA, the Tribunal accepted Halep’s argument that she had taken a contaminated supplement but determined that the volume ingested by the player could not have resulted in the concentration of Roxadustat found in the positive sample.
Halep was provisionally suspended since October 2022, a suspension that the tribunal took into account. Therefore, the former world number one’s suspension will last from October 7, 2022, until October 6, 2026.
The decision can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.
What is Roxadustat?
Roxadustat is a substance legitimately used for the treatment of anemia. However, it is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of prohibited substances because it is considered a blood doping agent that increases hemoglobin and red blood cell production.
Patrick Mouratoglou, Halep’s coach, first reaction:
Mouratoglou has described himself as “extremely shocked” by this decision: “I sat through the entire two days of hearing with her, and I CANNOT believe that the tribunal has reached that decision based on the evidence and arguments that I heard. I hope that Simona will prevail at CAS which is the only tribunal that is not controlled by the ITIA. I hope that the WTA, ATP and PTPA will do their best to change a system that is destroying careers of innocent people.”
Simona’s father was surprised by the news as well and gave a short interview to the Romanian press. His reactions:
Simona’s father, Stere Halep, is supporting her daughter through this hard time. He stated: “they can suspend her 100 years, we cannot admit something like this”. He will continue to fight along Simona to prove her innocence. Stere considers that the tennis player is a victim, and she shouldn’t give up until she will be cleared of the accusations.
“Of course, Simona is disappointed. If they want her guilty, they can suspend her 100 years, but we cannot admit doing something like this. If someone wants her to be guilty, that’s their problem. We will appeal the decision. What can you do? You can’t do anything. If that’s how they do things, it’s a shame for all players, it can happen to anyone. The international law must do something for these people. It can’t be only the player who’s guilty, something like that it’s unheard of.”
Simona’s first appearance after the trial:
Simona is visibly shocked by the verdict, and she is stating once again, contrary to her accusations, that she never doped.
The Romanian tennis player talked Wednesday morning to the Romanian press: “I can say I am in complete shock and it’s very unfair what is happening. I have never doped, and the truth will come out one day and I will let the experts talk anything they want because they know better what is going on and I truly believe that one day I will prove that I am innocent and clean. Everything that is happened it’s unfair from every point of view, I am disappointed and shocked that a player can be judged by a supposition, nothing sure. All my blood work was negative and not even once have they found forbidden substances. In urine, only on the 29th there was a tiny trace of Roxadustat, and that’s it. I will fight until I will prove all these things.”
Other reactions from the tennis world:
Nick Kyrgios reacted shortly after the news about Simona. The controversial tennis player twitted: “champion… smh” (n.r. – shaking my head – slang used to show his disapproval). The rebel tennis player who won Australian Open in 2022 had a similar message when Halep was suspended in 2022: “mmhmm”; showing that he didn’t believe in her innocence from the beginning.
A similar reaction came from Serena Williams, who twitted “8 is a better number”. Fans were quick to point out that it looks like an attack to Halep. The 7 times Wimbledon winner lost to Simona in 2019 at All England Club, 2-6 2-6. Williams’ controversial reaction split the tennis world into two, and Simona Halep has found a supporter in Andrew Harris who accused Serena of hypocrisy. The Australian posted a list with all the forbidden substances the American took during her career, using therapeutic use exemptions. It’s interesting that she was allowed to use those substances and bring TUEs after. Serena Williams used this “method” 8 times between 2010 and 2015.
All the substances Serena Williams has taken during her career and used therapeutic use exemptions:
Why didn’t Simona bring a TUE as well? Well, the answer is very simple: she did not know she has Roxadustat in her body: “I dedicated my life for tennis. I take this sport’s rules very seriously and I am very proud to say that I never used, intentionally or knowingly, any forbidden substance” – said the Romanian tennis player.
Jean-Claude Alvarez, the director of the Toxicology Lab CHU de Garches, France, was one of the four witnesses Halep used in the trial. He stated: “You’d think you were dreaming. Right now, we’re condemning an innocent woman. We’re making a mistake. Given the concentration she has in her hair, it’s not possible for her to be taking Roxadustat effectively.”