When Simona Halep takes to the court in Miami in the coming days, it’s about more than just tennis, her presence is a reminder of the utter failure of the anti-doping system.

Halep’s first round match in Miami will be her first competitive appearance since the 2022 US Open. That’s 18 months away from the game, an absence that was as a result of her suspension for doping.

In October of 2022, Halep was charged with two doping offences: one for testing positive for roxadustat and another for irregularities in her athlete biological passport and was suspended with immediate effect.

In September of last year, after a lengthy investigation, she was handed a four-year ban, which would, she admitted at the time, likely end her career as she would be 36 years old when the ban expired.

She did however, protest her innocence and vowed to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

An insistence of innocence is not an unusual occurrence. 

Countless athletes deny knowingly taking performance-enhancing drugs but despite this, few actually provide a convincing argument that they’re speaking the truth.

And so, often, their appeal to CAS goes nowhere.

Not in Halep’s case, however.

The Herald: Simona Halep is in her first grand slam final (AP)

The Romanian former world number one’s appeal to CAS proved to be more fruitful than anyone, perhaps even Halep herself, could have imagined.

Earlier this month, CAS reduced Halep’s ban from four years to nine months, meaning she was eligible to compete again with immediate effect, hence why we’ll see her on court in the coming days in Miami.

This case is an abomination in several ways.

Firstly, if Halep was deserving of only a nine month ban, as CAS has ruled, then she’s unfairly lost nine months of her career when she should have been able to compete and earn money. She was, instead, deprived of this.

And secondly, and more pertinently, her case highlights just how unreliable and how untrustworthy the decisions of anti-doping agencies can be.

How on earth can one anti-doping body deem a four-year ban to be the correct punishment while another deems only nine months to be a suitable sanction?

How can anyone within or outwith of tennis be expected to have even a grain of faith in the anti-doping system given the inconsistencies in this case? 

Is Halep guilty of a grievous offence, or is she not? Which verdict should we really believe?

When Halep walks onto court in the next few days, her reputation is severely damaged in comparison to eighteen months ago before her doping violation, of that there is no question. What’s far less certain is whether or not that reputational damage is legitimate, or entirely unjustified.

This comes in the same months that the great middle distance runner and rival of Scotland’s Josh Kerr, Jakob Ingebrigtsen, claimed in an interview that “doping is worse now than ten years ago. It is difficult to prove that but it’s what I feel,” he said, before going onto explain that fewer positive tests does not, in his mind anyway, mean there are fewer cheats in the sport. 

“The problem now is we see less positive tests and that really concerns me; it is a sign that people are getting smarter,” said Ingebrigtsen.

Certainly, I’m on Ingebrigtsen’s team when it comes to my scepticism about doping in elite sport.

I have little faith that sport is cleaner than it was five, ten or even twenty years ago. 

It’s likely that some athletes are too smart for the testers to catch them, but there still remains plenty who aren’t smart enough to avoid detection. 

This year alone, and we’re only in mid-March, there’s been several high profile athletes suspended for doping offences.

Of course, every suspension is, you would think, a good thing; it’s one less cheat in sport, isn’t it? Except the Halep decision throws all of these assumptions into question.

A hefty suspension is meant to act as a deterrent to others as much as a punishment to the offender. But given the outcome of Halep’s case, where’s the deterrent now? The message is that, even with a seemingly watertight case against you, with the right lawyers, you can escape a lengthy ban.

Elite sport has enough problems convincing people that it’s not dominated by cheats. What we don’t need is a case that throws the entire system into doubt in the way this one has.

When Halep plays her first round match in Miami, I don’t know how I’ll feel. Is she a victim who’s been hard done by or is she a cheat who’s got off lightly? I have no idea. And that, for the sake of sporting integrity, can never be the outcome of a doping case.



It’s little secret that the Commonwealth Games are in dire trouble when it comes to securing a host for future editions.

This week, Malaysia has reportedly been offered the 2026 Games, an event that seemed in extreme jeopardy given the number of false starts there’s been with potential hosts.

If this plan to take the Games in two years to Malaysia comes to fruition, it’ll be a welcome relief to literally thousands of athletes.

But the fact remains that the future of the Commonwealth Games is on shaky ground. 

Finding a host for 2026 is a short-term fix but the long-term challenge remains; what will come of the Games? 

For now, however, a 2026 host means there’s some breathing space and that will, I hope, give enough time and space to sort the Games out in the long run.