Two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep has been served with a second breach of the doping rules and has reacted angrily on Instagram that she feels ‘helpless facing such harassment’ while denying the charges, and suggesting she has been ‘a victim of a contamination’.
Not only has my name been soiled in the worst possible way, but am facing a constant determination from the ITIA for a reason that I cannot understand, to prove my guilt while I haven't ever even thought of taking any illicit substance. I tried two times to have the opportunity to be judged by an Independent Tribunal and the ITIA has constantly found reasons to postpone. Simona Halep
The International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) alleges that ‘irregularities in her athlete biological passport’ have come to light in addition to her initial doping offence that led to the 31-year old Romania’s suspension since October after testing positive for a banned substance at the US Open.
The athlete biological passport programme collects and compares biological data to spot discrepancies over time that suggest possible doping.
“I have lived the worst nightmare I have ever gone through in my life,” Halep wrote in a post on social media.
“Not only has my name been soiled in the worst possible way, but am facing a constant determination from the ITIA for a reason that I cannot understand, to prove my guilt while I haven’t ever even thought of taking any illicit substance.
“I tried two times to have the opportunity to be judged by an Independent Tribunal and the ITIA has constantly found reasons to postpone.
“Now that we have clearly established that I have been victim of a contamination, they came up with a so-called not normal evolution of my blood. Three world renowned experts that have studied my blood tests have been extremely clear that my blood is totally normal.
“I feel helpless facing such harassment and a motivation on their behalf to prove me guilty of something I never did.
“Once again, all my life I have been totally against any sort of cheating. It doesn’t align with my values.
“The only thing I hope for, at this point, is to have the possibility to finally access the independent and impartial judges in a Tribunal, that will give me the chance to prove my innocence.
“I have full trust in justice and I look forward to finally being able to present my case at my hearing that is scheduled at the end of May, after several delays by the ITIA.
“The support of my loved ones, the tennis world and my fans have given me the courage to continue to practice every day and fight for the truth. I cannot thank you more for that.”
The former World No 1’s suspension last year was imposed after she tested positive for roxadustat, an anti-anaemia drug which stimulates the production of red blood cells in the body.
She criticised the ITIA, which is responsible for testing within the sport, for its handling of her case, arguing that there had been unnecessary delays in the process, adding that she hopes to have the chance to prove her innocence at a hearing scheduled for the end of May.
The ITIA said it was continuing discussions with an independent tribunal team and with Halep’s representatives to get the matter resolved as quickly and efficiently as possible, although did not indicate how long this would take.
Nicole Sapstead, the ITIA’s senior director for anti-doping, said: “We understand that today’s announcement adds complexity to an already high-profile situation.
“From the outset of this process – and indeed any other at the ITIA – we have remained committed to engaging with Ms Halep in an empathetic, efficient and timely manner.
“We do, of course, appreciate there is a great deal of media interest in these cases.
“It would be inappropriate for us to comment on specifics until the conclusion of the process, but we will continue to engage with the Sport Resolutions independent tribunal and Ms Halep’s representatives as expeditiously as possible.”
The ITIA insists that the second charge was based on an assessment of Halep’s athlete biological passport by an independent expert panel.
Halep was ranked No 9 in the world when the ban came into force, and is one of the highest-profile tennis players to fail a drugs test, the most prominent since Russian 5-time major champion Maria Sharapova was banned in 2016.
Halep’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou also slammed the ITIA, saying: “Simona’s statement on the harassment she is victim of. This situation is going way past the limits of the acceptable.”
After initially only commenting briefly, Mouratoglou issued a full statement: “First of all, I want to say that I had planned to stay away from any public comments on Simona Halep’s case as I truly believed that the ITIA would conduct a fair investigation to establish the truth.
“The fact that I don’t have the same feeling at all now is disturbing, and has finally brought me to write these few words.
“I have been lucky to meet Simona Halep in April 2022 and we have worked together since then.
“I want to say a few words about her for those who haven’t ever met her: I discovered in Simona a very rare person. She is kind, she is sweet, she feels no aggressiveness and no jealousy towards anybody.
“She has devoted all her life to tennis. It is a childhood passion. Not her father’s, not her mother’s, only hers. It is an evidence that she has received the best education filled with extremely strong values that she keeps inside herself.
“Her honesty and righteousness is undoubtably unwavering. I know there is NO WAY she would have EVER done anything that would have been illegal.
“The support of the world of tennis for her has been extremely strong, because people who know her are convinced that she would have never done what she is accused of.
“Since the day the ITIA has charged her, I have been and will continue to be next to her every single day to support her in her fight for the truth.
“First I want to say that I am a strong advocate for a clean sport. I believe that tennis needs an anti-doping system that is able to chase the cheaters.
“This being said, I am extremely shocked by the way this case has been conducted. I thought that the ITIA would pursue the goal to establish the truth, but they clearly try to prove her guilty even though she has been able to show multiple evidence of her innocence since December 2022….
“This last charge that has been sent to her yesterday which is totally linked with the first case is a pure interpretation of her blood passport. In other words, the ITIA hasn’t found any illegal substance in her blood but just states that her blood parameters are ‘suspicious’.
“Well renowned expert who have checked on them, have established that this statement is totally wrong and a biased interpretation, and that her blood parameters are perfectly normal.
“Simona clearly expressed that she doesn’t ask for any special treatment but the application of the rules that state that she is entitled to be judged by an independent Tribunal.
“That is why I ask the ITIA to stop this harassment that is inconceivable and to stop constantly delaying the hearing that should have been held in February and is now planned at the end of May.”
Patrick Ciorcilă, director of the Transylvania Open, a WTA 250 tournament, also slammed the decision by the ITIA as a ‘joke’.
The suspension issued by the ITIA caused Halep to miss the opening Grand Slam tournament of the year at the Australian Open, and she is now set to also be absent from Roland Garros, where she was the champion in 2019, and, very probably, also Wimbledon, where she won the title that same year.