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Simona Halep blasts ‘scandalous accusations’ as doping ban reduced

Simona Halep returns - Simona Halep blasts 'scandalous accusations' as doping ban reduced
Simona Halep is planning a swift return to tennis - Reuters/Denis Balibouse

Former world No 1 Simona Halep hit out at ‘scandalous accusations’ after her doping ban was reduced on appeal, allowing her to return to tennis immediately.

Halep, 32, tested positive for the banned chemical Roxadustat at the 2022 US Open, and has not played since. The International Tennis Integrity Agency banned her for four years after finding her guilty on two counts: not only for the presence of a prohibited substance in her urine sample, but for irregularities in her biological passport.

But the Court of Arbitration for Sport downgraded her ban to nine months after accepting Halep’s defence she had ingested the steroid via a contaminated dietary supplement in August 2022.

“My faith in the process was tested by the scandalous accusations that were levelled against me, and by the seemingly unlimited resources that were aligned against me. I cannot wait to return to the tour,” Halep said.

The ruling represents a significant defeat for the ITIA, which had stated in its findings that the amount of Roxadustat in Halep’s samples had been too high to be consistent with accidental contamination.

Even more damagingly for the ITIA project, Halep had been the first tennis player to be convicted for a breach of the biological passport regime, which was first introduced just over a decade ago. Given the amount of time, money and effort expended on this project – which aims to detect doping via variations in certain biological markers – it is alarming that the first case to be brought has now been overturned on appeal.

A statement from Cas said that “Although the Cas Panel found that Ms Halep did bear some level of fault or negligence for her violations, as she did not exercise sufficient care when using the Keto MCT supplement, it concluded that she bore no significant fault or negligence.”

This case has been particularly thorny from the beginning, with Halep denying the charges and accusing the ITIA of spending too long formulating their case against her.

Halep’s case was originally meant to be heard in February last year, but was delayed until June, largely because of the addition of the biological passport charge. When this second charge was announced, Halep said it was “the worst nightmare I have ever gone through in my life … my name has been soiled in the worst possible way”. The four-year ban was handed down in September.

Simona Halep at Wimbledon - Simona Halep blasts 'scandalous accusations' as doping ban reduced
Simona Halep won Wimbledon in 2019 - PA/Adam Davy

Cas have moved much more quickly than the ITIA did, after holding a three-day hearing into the Halep case in early February. Thus far, however, Cas have only released a two-page summary which states no more than the bare bones of their decision. Their full judgement will come later. As yet, the ITIA have not been made aware of the detailed reasoning, and are thus unable to comment in detail.

“An essential element of the anti-doping process is a player’s ability to appeal,” said ITIA chief executive Karen Moorhouse in a statement. “The ITIA respects both their right to do so, and the outcome. We await the full reasoned decision and will review it thoroughly in due course.”

Another interested party here will be Patrick Mouratoglou, the coach who said in November last year: “I feel responsible for what happened because it’s my team, so basically me, who brought her this collagen.” Mouratoglou had only started working with Halep three months before the positive test, and their collaboration lapsed at some point last year.

In an interview at the end of last year, Halep said her career would probably be over if the four-year ban stood. But she has also posted videos from the training court recently, so she will probably be looking to resume her playing career with immediate effect.

Cas has a history of reducing doping suspensions, but this represents an unusually large divergence between its findings and those of the ITIA. In effect, two different independent panels have considered the evidence and come to contrasting conclusions.

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