Simona Halep has been busy behind the scenes trying to clear her name after having been provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) following a positive doping test on 29 August taken after her US Open first-round match.
The suspension can be reduced or even cancelled if the two conditions stipulated by the World Anti-Doping Code are cumulatively met: to establish very clearly the way in which the substance entered the body and the athlete’s lack of intention to take the prohibited substance to improve sports performance. One of the conditions was met, it was clearly established how the substance got into the athlete’s body. Cristian Jura, Arbitrator, Court of Arbitration for Sport, Lausanne
Halep reportedly returned a negative sample in a test carried out in Bucharest immediately after returning from New York, and categorically stated on Twitter when she heard the news of her suspension: “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.”
The former World No 1 from Romania has reportedly asked for an emergency summary hearing after obtaining evidence that the positive result for the banned substance roxadustat came from a contaminated supplement.
Cristian Jura, a Romanian judge serving with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, has revealed that Halep took a key step in having her doping suspension lifted by identifying the source of the roxadustat as coming from supplements she had been using which, reportedly, were provided without proper labelling.
Roxadustat is a prescription medicine but its formula has been widely published and unlicensed chemists have been producing the drug that has been shown to increase peak oxygen uptake.
“It seems that the method by which Roxadustat entered the athlete’s body has been identified, namely by ingesting a contaminated food supplement,” Jura told ProSport. “Contaminated product is a product that contains a prohibited substance, without this being specified on the product label or in information accessible through a reasonable search on the Internet.
“The athlete is still at this moment between the lifting of the suspension, i.e. the removal of any sanctions, and the 4-year suspension from sports activity.
“The suspension can be reduced or even cancelled if the two conditions stipulated by the World Anti-Doping Code are cumulatively met: to establish very clearly the way in which the substance entered the body and the athlete’s lack of intention to take the prohibited substance to improve sports performance.
“One of the conditions was met, it was clearly established how the substance got into the athlete’s body.
“The athlete must also prove the lack of guilt and negligence. That is, the athlete or other person must prove that Simona did not know or suspect and could not reasonably have known or suspected, even by exercising the most careful caution, that she used or was administered prohibited substances or that he used prohibited methods,” Jura added.
The Laboratoire Antidopage Français (LADF), employed by Halep, identified the source of the roxadustat contamination, which was minimal, and was not specified on the product label.
While the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sends very clear messages warning athletes against the use of supplements and products that may contain prohibited substances, the French report claims information about roxadustat presence in supplements is not accessible through a reasonable search on the internet utilising the online identification engines provided by WADA for finding prohibited products possibly existing in nutritional supplements.
It remains to be seen whether the results of the French analysis stands up to scrutiny.
Halep is one of a long line of elite athletes who have been subjected to anti-doping proceedings through unreliable supplements, but it remains a longstanding principle of anti-doping that athletes are held responsible for what is in their samples, regardless of how a banned substance got there or whether they knew about it.
Halep, who won the French Open in 2018 and Wimbledon in 2019, must now provide compelling evidence that she accidentally ingested the banned substance.
“Procedurally, there are several stages,” Jura added. “First, there’s a preliminary hearing before the International Tennis Integrity Agency.
“At this stage it is possible to lift the athlete’s provisional suspension, taking into account the evidence that she ingested a contaminated supplement, but I would make an important clarification – Just as it is possible to lift the provisional suspension, so it can be maintained, very much depends on the evidence.”
Meanwhile, Australia’s John Millman is one of many who believe Halep is innocent of deliberately doping and hopes she will be allowed to return to the court soon.
The former US Open quarter-finalist spoke out after Spain’s Fernando Verdasco was suspended for two months over an Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medication mistake.
Verdasco was prescribed medication by his physician but forgot to renew his Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) earlier this year.
Millman says he is not a fan of the TUE rule as it makes it possible for players to falsely claim ADHD and claim focus-enhancing medication to take during matches.
“In general I really don’t like TUE’s in professional sport,” Millman said. “Opens up way too many loopholes to ‘legally dope’ – it’s very unfortunate for those with legitimate need as is the probable case here.
“However, it’s been long known that if you want to dope, get a TUE.
“To add to this is one of the reasons I think Simona Halep is innocent. If she really wanted to enhance her performance with a substance she could have just gone down a TUE path.
“I genuinely believe she is innocent and hope she returns to the courts soon!”
Meanwhile, the ITIA reduced Verdasco’s ban from 2 years to 2 months because they concluded that the Spaniard ‘did not intend to cheat’, and the Spaniard’s suspension will now end on 08 January.
“The ITIA accepts that the player did not intend to cheat, that his violation was inadvertent and unintentional, and that he bears No Significant Fault or Negligence for it,” the ITIA stated. “In the specific circumstances of this case, based on the player’s degree of Fault, the TADP allows for the applicable period of ineligibility to be reduced from two years to two months.
“The player voluntarily accepted a provisional suspension after being notified of the charge.”
Elsewhere, Patrick Mouratoglou, Halep’s current coach, and her former mentor Darren Cahill were joined by Novak Djokovic in defending the World No 10.
“In almost 30 years of working with hundreds of professional athletes, I have never faced a situation like this,” Mouratoglou stated. “She is totally against any form of doping, and I know it has never crossed her mind to take any forbidden substance. I trust her 100%. Together, we will fight to prove the truth.”
Cahill wrote: “Firstly, and most importantly, there is NO chance Simona knowingly or purposely took any substance on the banned list. None. Zero.
“Simona’s integrity is faultless, she respects her peers, she loves the game and she always has her feet firmly planted on the ground as a humble, approachable champion.”
Meanwhile, the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTTA), led by Djokovic, said: “The PTPA is committed to ensure that Simona Halep, like all other tennis players, has a fair trial during the entire process.
“We will fight for her rights and try to insist on transparency for all other tennis players.”