A scientist who analyzed a hair sample from Simona Halep disputed her ban from tennis. The former World No. 1 shook the sport to its core when it was announced she has been suspended four years due to two breaches of the Anti-Doping program.
The 31-year-old tested positive for the banned substance roxadustat after the 2022 US Open and had irregularities in her biological passport. Halep will appeal the decision and the testimony of professor Jean-Claude Alvarez may help her case. The director of the toxicology laboratory at the CHU de Garches in France was contacted by the two-time Grand Slam champion to test her hair sample, and he claimed the decision to ban her from tennis was incorrect.
“You’d think you were dreaming,” he told the French newspaper L’Equipe. “Right now, we’re condemning an innocent woman. We’re making a mistake. Given the concentration she has in her hair, it’s not possible for her to be taking roxadustat effectively.” Roxadustat increases the production of red blood cells and helps boost levels of endurance.
Professor Alvarez explained the sample contained a very low level of the drug, to the point where he claimed it would not have impacted her performance. Furthermore, the scientist, who is also a judicial expert for the French Supreme Court, claimed the results showed the roxadustat found was a collagen supplement, which was taken as a powder mixed with water.
He claimed it was produced in China where the drug is commonly used and it can relieve pain in tendons, ligaments and joints. “[Simona Halep] came to the lab, I took a hair sample from her. She had a very low level, less than 0.5 picograms per milligram in her hair,” Alvarez added.
“So I went to sample the only patient who has a treatment (of roxadustat, three times a week for renal failure) with this molecule in France and I tested one of her hairs: she has concentrations of 50 picograms per milligram. The roxadustat level is 0.2 nanograms per milliliter (in urine) for Simona Halep. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. You may have them if you take food supplements. It’s all nonsense.”
While refuting Halep’s ban for testing positive for roxadustat, Alvarez also found it hard to understand how irregularities were found in the former Wimbledon champion’s biological passport. “Six months on, they’re saying that her September sample is ‘lightly doping’ (slightly positive) when that wasn’t the case six months before,” he said.
“It was when they knew she had taken roxadustat in her analyses that the experts changed their interpretation. I just can’t understand it.” Halep was already serving a provisional suspension following her positive drug test after the 2022 US Open. Her four-year ban means she will not be eligible to return to the tour until Oct. 7, 2026, when she will be 35 years old.
In a lengthy statement posted to her social media account, Halep said she will continue to work toward clearing her name and return to competition. “I have never knowingly or intentionally used any prohibited substance. I refused to accept their decision of a four-year ban,” she wrote.
“I am eternally grateful for the outpouring of support I have received from my family, friends, and tennis fans around the world. I am continuing to train and do everything in my power to clear my name of these false allegations and return to the court. I intend to appeal this decision to The Court of Arbitration for Sport and pursue all legal remedies against the supplement company in question.”
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