Authors

David de Ferrars

Partner

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Tom Charnley

Senior Associate

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Ben Jones

Associate

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Authors

David de Ferrars

Partner

Read More

Tom Charnley

Senior Associate

Read More

Ben Jones

Associate

Read More

10 June 2024

The Halep case: navigating anti-doping regulations in professional sports

  • Quick read

Simona Halep, former Tennis world number one, was handed a four-year ban by the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) for violations of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme. On appeal, the suspension was reduced to nine-months - a still significant impediment to a sparkling career. 

Simona Halep's case

In August 2022 at the US open, Halep tested positive for the banned substance Roxadustat. Typically used to combat anaemia, Roxadustat was listed as a performance enhancing drug on the 2022 prohibited list by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Halep was additionally charged with a separate breach in relation to irregularities in her Athlete Biological Passport (ABP). 

After a hearing in June 2023 before an Independent Tribunal, Halep was banned from competing for four years, backdated to the start of her provisional suspension (7 October 2022). 

Regulatory framework

The ITIA is an independent body created in 2021 by the ATP, ITF, WTA and Grand Slams to safeguard integrity and prevent corruption and doping in professional tennis worldwide. As part of its governance of the sport, the ITIA manages the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (TADP). The ITIA has stated that it is the responsibility of everyone in the sport to be aware of the TADP's anti-doping rules. 

Players are bound by the TADP rules as a condition of their participation in professional events. Players have to submit to the ITIA's authority to enforce the programme, which includes submitting to the consequences for breaches of the rules. Competitors are tested for substances that have been prohibited by WADA – the presence of a prohibited substance or any of its markers in a sample from a player is considered to be an anti-doping violation. 

Regulation 13 of the TADP rules maintains that an athlete competing at a Grand Slam event (such as the US Open) is allowed to appeal an Anti-Doping Rule Violation or a decision imposing consequence for such a violation anti-doping decision, to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). 

CAS appeal

Halep appealed her case to CAS in February 2024, arguing that she accidentally ingested a contaminated supplement and requested that the sanction against her be reduced to no greater than the period of provisional suspension already served. The ITIA submitted a separate appeal, requesting that both of Halep's violations be served as a single violation that would carry a more severe sanction - seeing her ineligible to participate for a period of between four and six years. 

On 5 March 2024, CAS ruled in Halep's favour, reducing the suspension to nine-months, beginning from the date of the start of her provisional suspension. As a result, the period of suspension was determined to have expired on 6 July 2023. 

Halep's alternative claim

Separately, in February 2024 Halep brought a case against the Canadian supplements company Quantum Nutrition (Quantum) – Quantum being the entity Halep attributed her positive test result to - pursuing $10 million in damages. Halep has argued that the supplements produced by the Quantum were contaminated with Roxadustat. While Quantum have denied the claims, Halep's pursuit of a legal claim against the company illustrates one possible route that an athlete may take in parallel to any appeals regarding their eligibility to participate in the sport.

Decoding the maze of sports governance

While Halep succeeded in her CAS appeal, her case illustrates how athletes must understand their sport's anti-doping rules and legal processes. Inadvertent violations can still carry severe consequences like years-long bans from competition and massive financial impacts. Due to the specific formulation of the TADP rules, recourse to a final arbitral body was available – but athletes should not assume that such provisions will be de facto in place for all sports. 

Governing bodies wield significant authority to sanction competitors through binding regulations. Simply being unaware is not a defence. By participating at elite levels, athletes subject themselves to layers of policies that can devastatingly impact careers if violations occur. Consequently,  Both athletes and their support teams need to ensure they have a meticulous understanding of not just the specific sporting regulations but also overarching legal authorities and appeal mechanisms in order to protect careers from years-long bans.

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