- Sport: Tennis
- Issue: Arbitration
- Type: Anti-Doping
- Tribunal: Nicholas Stewart KC, Amani Khalifa, Professor Peter Sever
- Decision date: 22 September 2023
- Outcome: 4 years ineligibility
A decision in the case of the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) against Simona Halep has been issued by the Independent Panel.
On 29 August 2022, during the US Open, Ms Halep, a Romanian tennis player, provided an In-Competition urine sample that resulted in an Adverse Analytical Finding. Ms Halep was made subject to a Provisional Suspension on 7 October 2022. Then, on 31 October 2022, the ITIA formally issued Ms Halep with a notice of charge for committing Anti-Doping Rule Violations for the Presence and Use of FG-4592 (also known as Roxadustat), a Prohibited Non-Specified Substance. Furthermore, an additional notice of charge for committing an Anti-Doping Rule Violation was issued by the ITIA on 19 May 2023 due to an inconsistency that arose in relation to Ms Halep’s position under the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) Programme, triggered by a blood sample undertaken on 22 September 2022.
The Independent Tribunal, comprised of Mr Nicholas Stewart KC (Chair), Ms Amani Khalifa and Professor Peter Sever, was appointed to hear this matter.
The Independent Tribunal analysed the two charges separately. On the first, Ms Halep accepted that the presence of Roxadustat was sufficiently proven. Due to the acceptance, the Independent Tribunal was comfortably satisfied that the charge was proven and analysed whether the period of Ineligibility could be reduced from the default four-year sanction due to the violation not being intentional. Although Ms Halep argued that the presence was a result of contamination from ingesting Keto MCT, the Independent Tribunal concluded that it was not realistically possible that the contamination of Keto MCT produced the amount of Roxadustat actually present in the samples collected. Consequently, the Independent Tribunal found that Ms Halep failed to prove that the Anti-Doping Rule Violations for the Presence and Use of Roxadustat were not intentional.
On the ABP charge, the Independent Tribunal concurred with the expert opinion and concluded that they were comfortably satisfied that Ms Halep committed the Anti-Doping Rule Violation as the blood sample of 22 September 2022 showed a completely different blood picture than previous and subsequent samples from that year. Furthermore, the experts compared the results to the competition schedule, noting that the sample in question was collected shortly after a major competition (US Open).
An Anti-Doping Rule Violation for an ABP Charge, per the regulations, also entails a four-year period of Ineligibility. However, the Independent Tribunal then analysed the sanction to be imposed in relation to TADP Article 10.9.4.1 and concluded that given that the second violation was committed before the notice of charge of the first violation was issued to Ms Halep, the two Anti-Doping Violations were to be considered together and impose only the more severe of the sanction. As to whether there were aggravating circumstances, the Tribunal was not comfortably satisfied that any aggravating circumstances applied as the Tribunal found the doping violations to be exclusively timed to align with her performance in the US Open and did not find sufficient evidence to justify the ITIA’s claim that there had been prior instances of doping in March 2022.
The Tribunal thereby determined that Anti-Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) had been established pursuant to TADP Articles 2.1 and 2.2 due to the presence and use of Roxadustat and pursuant to TADP 2.2 by the Use of a Prohibited Substance and/or Prohibited Method as evidenced by the Athlete Biological Passport. A period of Ineligibility of four years was imposed. The period of Ineligibility commenced on the date of the Tribunal’s final decision, 22 September 2023, but credit was given for the period Ms Halep was provisionally suspended, therefore running from 7 October 2022. Further, Ms Halep’s results earned from 29 August 2022 until 7 October 2022 (essentially only the US Open 2022 results, given that Ms Halep did not compete in any other competition) shall also be disqualified.
The Independent Tribunal is administered by Sport Resolutions and is entirely independent of the ITIA who is responsible for promoting and safeguarding the integrity of professional tennis.