After being suspended, which can be seen as the equivalent of being detained without trial, for almost one full year, the sentence in Simona Halep‘s doping case finally came yesterday, so exactly when she completely dropped out of the WTA Rankings. But, if the timing seems highly suspicious, the sentence itself, however harsh, should have been expected, at least since those other “irregularities” were added to the accusations. After all, this four-year ban is actually the result of two two-year sentences, so without those additional charges, it’d have only been two years. Or at most two years, since I’d find it likely that, under those circumstances, the ban would have ended up being for a single year, just to cover this suspension and stop her from demanding compensation.
This decision can and will be appealed, but at this point I don’t really see how the outcome could be good enough for her to actually return to the sport. If it’d have been a single four-year ban, for a single reason, maybe she’d have had a chance to have it halved, which would still be a problem but might have just allowed her to return, albeit most probably not at a particularly high level. As things stand, however, unless another group of experts would reverse the “strong opinion” expressed about the cause of those “irregularities” by the ones who took part in this trial, I don’t see that part of the sentence changing, and even if the first sentence might somehow be halved, being banned for two more years instead of three more probably won’t make that much of a difference. So, while it’d be nice to be proven wrong, I’d say that this marks the end of Simona Halep’s career.
As for the matter itself, I can only offer a personal opinion, without any expertise or detailed knowledge, whether about the topic in general or about this specific case. But my personal opinion is that this entire mess has something to do with the fact that she had just changed her staff at that point. Maybe it was a series of mistakes, involving supplements that actually were contaminated by accident and possibly some lack of care, or misunderstandings between her and the new staff regarding the procedures necessary to verify that everything that she was going to take was safe. Maybe it was something worse, someone from that new staff actually intending to give her a banned substance, possibly thinking that they could do so in a way which won’t be detected. But whether those who should check and decide what substances she should take knew about it would remain a matter for debate even so.
Whatever the case, strictly as a personal opinion which may, of course, be proven wrong, I do not believe that she was aware of the situation or had any intent in taking the banned substance… Which isn’t to say that, over the course of her career, she didn’t probably try to gain an edge by taking substances and undergoing procedures that aren’t actually banned but which generate benefits that might account for those “irregularities”, boosting certain parameters past what’d be her normal values. And, while how fair that is may be a matter for some debate, the fact is that it’s entirely normal for pretty much any top athlete, and as long as the methods used aren’t against the regulations at the time, so we’re not talking about attempts to disguise the use of banned substances or procedures, it shouldn’t be a reason for a ban. And it usually isn’t… Unless the athlete in question is under close scrutiny for another reason, as in this case…