11 Sep 2023
In October 2022 the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA), on behalf of the International Tennis Federation (ITF), reported an anti-doping rule violation against the Romanian tennis player Simona Halep after her A and B samples tested positive for the prohibited substance Roxadustat (FG-4592).
Furthermore in May 2023 the ITIA reported a second anti-doping rule violation against the Athlete after an Expert Panel concluded unanimously in April 2023 in their Joint Expert Opinion that the Athlete’s hematological profile “highly likely” showed that she used a prohibited substance or a prohibited method: the use of EPO or Blood doping.
This conclusion of the Expert Panel was based on assessment of blood samples, collected in the period from 27 August 2013 until 3 March 2023 reported in the Athlete’s Biological Passport (ABP).
After notification about the ABP violation the Athlete submitted an explanation with documentation for the abnormal values in her ABP. However after consideration the Expert Panel rejected the Athlete’s explanations in their 2nd (May 2023) and 3rd (June 2023) Joint Expert Opinions.
In both cases a provisional suspension was ordered. Supported by expert witnesses the Athlete filed explanations and evidence in her defence and she was heard for the ITF Independent Tribunal.
Thereupon the Roxadustat charge and the ABP charge were resolved by the Tribunal in consolidated proceedings. Preliminary the Panel ruled that there were no grounds to lift the imposed provisional suspension(s) as requested by the Athlete.
In the matter of the Roxadustat charge the Athlete accepted the test results and denied the intentional use of the substance. She asserted that the source of the positive test was a contaminated Keto MCT supplement she had used in August 2022.
The Panel assessed and addressed the issues raised by the Parties and their expert witnesses:
- Whether or not the Keto MCT supplement was contaminated;
- Admissibility of the hair test for Roxadustat;
- Whether or not the hair test established contamination;
- The concentration of Roxadustat in the Athlete's sample;
- The Athlete's use of the supplement;
- The specific gravity of the Athlete's sample.
The Panel concludes that on a balance of probability the Keto MCT supplement was contaminated with Roxadustat. However the Panel also concludes that the Athlete clearly must have ingested Roxadustat from some other source.
The Panel holds that it can not speculate on how the apparently highly unlikely coincidence of the two separate sources of Roxadustat came about. The evidence does not demonstrate that to the Panel.
In the matter of the ABP charge the Athlete also accepted the results of the 51 valid samples in her ABP and denied that she had used any prohibited substance of prohibited method. She alleged that the blood values in her ABP samples had been caused by: (a) blood loss during surgery; (b) a second redacted issue; or (c) periods of detraining.
Here the Panel also assessed and addressed the ITF evidence, the Athlete's explanations and the opinions of the Parties' expert witnesses.
Ultimately the Panel accepts the findings of the ABP Expert Panel and is comfortably satisfied that the Athlete had committed an anti-doping rule violation because of her use of a prohibited substance and/or a prohibited method.
Furthermore the Panel assessed whether there are aggravating circumstances in this case. However It determines that there are insufficient grounds for the imposition of an increased period of ineligibility.
Therefore the ITF Independent Tribunal decides on 11 September 2023 to impose a 4 year period of ineligibility on the Athlete for committing two anti-doping rule violations:
- Presence and Use of the prohibited substance Roxadustat; and
- Use of a prohibited substance and/or a prohibited method.
The Panel rules that these violations are considered as one single first anti-doping rule violation, starting on the date of the provisional suspension, i.e. 7 October 2022. Finally the Panel decides to disqualify the Athlete's results obtained between 29 August 2022 to 7 October 2022.