The former tennis world No1 Simona Halep has been banned for four years for two breaches of anti-doping rules, the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) has announced. Halep, who won the French Open in 2018 and Wimbledon a year later, tested positive for the prohibited substance roxadustat at the US Open in 2022 and was also subsequently found to have irregularities in her athlete biological passport (ABP).
Roxadustat is a substance legitimately used for the treatment of anaemia but is on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned list as it is considered a blood-doping agent, which increases haemoglobin and the production of red blood cells. The biological passport system monitors an athlete’s blood indicators over a long period of time in order to identify irregularities that could indicate doping.
The four-year ban was announced by an independent tribunal after they sat through two days of evidence from scientific experts, sifted through 8,000 pages of evidence, and also heard Halep herself. The tribunal said it accepted Halep’s argument that she had taken a contaminated supplement but determined the volume the player ingested could not have resulted in the concentration of roxadustat found in the positive sample.
They also upheld the ABP charge, with their panel of experts saying that they had no reason to doubt the unanimous “strong opinion” reached by each of the three independent Athlete Passport Management Unit experts that “likely doping” was the explanation for the irregularities in Halep’s profile.
Halep, who has been provisionally suspended since October 2022, will not be able to play professional tennis again until 6 October 2026 – although the case remains subject to appeal. Halep subsequently said she plans to appeal.
Karen Moorhouse, the chief executive officer at the ITIA, said: “After a complex and rigorous hearing process, we welcome the independent tribunal’s decision. The volume of evidence for the tribunal to consider in both the roxadustat and ABP proceedings was substantial.
“The ITIA has followed the proper processes as we would with any other individual – in accordance with the world anti-doping code – fulfilling our purpose and responsibility to uphold the principle of fair competition, on behalf of the sport. The panel recognised that appropriate procedure had been followed within the written decision.
“We do understand the significant public interest in these cases and remain committed to being as transparent as possible and the full decision will be published in due course.”
Halep quickly announced in a statement that she would appeal the decision, saying: “Today, a tribunal under the tennis anti-doping programme announced a tentative decision in my case. The last year has been the hardest match of my life, and unfortunately my fight continues.
“I have devoted my life to the beautiful game of tennis. I take the rules that govern our sport very seriously and take pride in the fact I have never knowingly or intentionally used any prohibited substance. I refused to accept their decision of a four-year ban.”