The independent tribunal that banned Simona Halep from tennis for four years due to doping has recently published a 125-page decision revealing “strong grounds for suspicion” that the Romanian tennis player may have engaged in blood doping during Wimbledon last year. However, the tribunal couldn’t definitively confirm this suspicion because Halep didn’t undergo any blood tests between April and September 2022.
Earlier this week, it became known that Halep intentionally used the banned blood-doping agent roxadustat during the 2022 US Open. Additionally, an expert panel found abnormalities in her athlete biological passport after examining 51 of her blood samples.
The full decision, released on Thursday, discloses that the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) pushed for a more severe punishment, believing that Halep had been blood doping since at least March 2022 in preparation for Wimbledon and the US Open that year.
In response, the panel stated, “A key allegation by the ITIA on aggravating circumstances is that the player must have been using one prohibited substance or prohibited method from March 2022 at the latest. However, although there are strong grounds for suspicion, we are not comfortably satisfied that this is the case.”
The panel also noted that there was no unequivocal assertion by the expert panel that Halep’s blood doping was “highly likely.” This uncertainty extended to the allegations of blood doping related to the Wimbledon championships in June/July 2022 because there is a period from April 27 to September 22 for which Halep’s blood values are unknown.
Simona Halep , a former French Open and Wimbledon champion, maintains her innocence and intends to challenge the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. She stated, “I am continuing to train and do everything in my power to clear my name of these false allegations.”
The full decision further emphasizes that the panel found it “not realistically possible” for the levels of roxadustat in Halep’s body to have resulted from a Keto MCT supplement, as Halep had claimed. While acknowledging the possibility of supplement contamination, the panel argued that the levels in her body indicated that she must have ingested roxadustat from an “unidentified source.”
As part of the case, they administered the same amount of Keto MCT to a woman with similar physical characteristics to Halep for a control study. However, experts found that the levels of the banned drug in Halep’s urine test exceeded those in the volunteer’s urine by “46 and 85 times,” rendering it implausible that Halep had ingested the drug as she described, considering her metabolism and the drug’s known characteristics.