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Simona Halep ban lift challenged by one of the expert witness


Tennis player Simona Halep abour to hit a forehand


The biggest doping case in tennis history

As reported two weeks ago, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced Simona Halep's suspension from four years to nine months, which were already purged. She was eligible to make her return on the tour at the Miami Open, which granted her a wildcard. Halep lost a close 3-setters in the first round against Paula Badosa, giving a glimpse of hope in her ability to reach the top again. Given the length of the suspension and the high profile of the ex-world number one, it was probably the biggest doping case in the sport's history.


U.S. Open 2022

Let's go back to the very beginnings, when Simona Halep was first accused of doping. Following a positive test result during the 2022 U.S. Open to the molecule roxadustat, a molecule categorized as EPO that increases the production of red blood cells, Simona was banned from competition for four year on October 7th, 2022, more than likely putting an end to her career. Ruling in first instance, the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) ruled that Halep's defense, based on the possibility that she took a contaminated supplement, did not match the quantity found in her samples. Unfortunately for the former Grand Slam champion, that would not be her last infraction.


Athlete Biological Passport (ABP)

A selected group of tennis players are tested regularly as part of the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) Programme. The ABP regularly comes under fire from players because of the restrictions it put on their daily schedule. It allows the long-term monitoring of an athlete’s biological data in both blood and urine to detect the use of banned substances that could not be detected otherwise. During spring 2023, irregularities were found in Halep's ABP. In its ruling, the ITIA used three expert witnesses that came to the unanimous opinion that "probable doping" was at the root of the irregularities found in the Romanian ABP.


Keto MCT supplement in the dock

According to Halep's defense, the consumption of a contaminated supplement of MCT (Medium Chain Triglycerides) was the source of the roxadustat molecules found in her samples. However, Halep failed to disclose the use of the Keto MCT supplement on her anti-doping form and during a subsequent meeting with the ITIA on Octobre 26th, 2022.


This is where the story doesn't make any sense according to Dr. Daniel Eichner, one of the expert witnesses brought by the ITIA. While giving evidence in Halep's case, he went over two scenarios : one where he took the highest amount of roxadustat found in the MCT supplement and the lowest level found in Halep's samples, the other where he took average values for both.


In the first scenario, the one which would be the most favorable for Halep, he came to the conclusion that she would have needed to ingest more than fifty times the daily recommended dosage to produce her positive test. When he ran the numbers for the second scenario, he came to the even more astonishing conclusion that she would have needed to ingest 5000 times the daily recommended dosage to match her test results. Halep denied taking more than the 10g daily recommended dose.


CAS decision challenged by David Walsh

The Sunday Times journalist David Walsh, who brought to light the Lance Armstrong doping scandal involving the USPS cycling team, challenged the ruling of the CAS in Simona Halep's case. He argues in an article released today that the CAS ignored the numbers brought forward by Dr. Eichner:


"had to have ignored the pharmacokinetics or, worse still, did not understand them."

He also thinks that this will cast a shadow on the public's trust in anti-doping rulings:


"Whatever way you look upon partial exoneration, it does not inspire confidence in the regulation of anti-doping cases"

The numbers provided by Dr. Eichner raises questions about the ruling given by the CAS where they took into consideration a private blood sample that Halep provided following her nose surgery and the fact that she did not intend to compete for the remainder of the 2022 season. Be that as it may, we're excited for Halep's comeback on the tour, it will improve the competitiveness of the field, but doubts will always remain.

 

Stay tuned, Stay inspired, Stay informed.


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