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Explained: Why Simona Halep’s reduced ban should buoy Paul Pogba and Juventus

Two stories of contrasting nature have unravelled in the last few days. Late last month, Paul Pogba, FIFA World Cup winner with France in 2018, received a ban of four years for high testosterone levels in his system, which would not have been possible without outside, illegal supplementation. Then on Tuesday, two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep’s ban of four years for doping was reduced to nine months by the CAS (the Court of Arbitration for Sport). It came to the conclusion that Halep had unintentionally taken the prohibited substance, but it noted she should have taken precautions. So she could not be completely exonerated. And hence the reduction in the ban length.

France’s midfielder Paul Pogba applauds before the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group D qualification football match between France and Finland (AFP)

When Halep was banned by an independent tribunal from playing in September 2023, many thought it was the end of her career, and rightly so. She was 31 at the time and a four-year ban would have taken her to an age where tennis players don’t normally stage a comeback; they rather mull retirement. Besides, staying away from the sport for so long would have certainly taken the edge off her game and finished her career for good, to be sure.

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But the CAS ruling has brought her back from the dead, in a manner of speaking. No wonder her joy knew no bounds in the wake of the verdict. ‘In the midst of this challenging journey, my unwavering belief in the integrity of the truth and in the principles of justice has been my beacon.’…This ordeal has been a testament to resilience. The triumph of truth is a bittersweet vindication that, albeit delayed, is immensely gratifying …Looking forward, I am eager to turn this page and rejoin the tour with renewed vigor and an invigorated spirit,’ she wrote on Instagram.

This development involving Halep would certainly make Pogba and his fans hopeful. Pogba has taken a similar stance on the matter that he took the substance unknowingly. If the 30-year-old midfield genius can convince the CAS and get his ban reduced like Halep, there will be nothing like it for fans. Like Halep, the former Manchester United star who joined Italian giants Juventus in 2022 on a free transfer, is a great achiever in the world of sport. If he fails to convince the CAS, it will be football’s loss. Players of his calibre and charisma don’t burst on the scene every other day.

Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri echoed those sentiments. He said: ‘It’s very sad both on a human level and for football. We are losing an extraordinary player. I was lucky enough to work with him, coach him, and it’s very difficult to find players like him…’

Going by the CAS’s record, Pogba has a good chance, provided there is some truth to his claims that he unknowingly took the substance. Dinamo Zagreb’s Arijan Ademi’s ban was reduced by two years in 2017 after he was able to prove that he didn’t do it wilfully. On the other hand, Bulgarian footballer Georgi Yomov failed to convince the CAS and his ban of four years remained in place. He blamed his brother for the faux pas, which didn’t hold water. Then there is the case of Halep. She was charged by the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) on October 7, 2022. They charged her with another offence (regarding irregularities in her athlete biological passport) in May 2023 which was dismissed by the CAS on Tuesday. The nine-month ban was back-dated which means it ended on July 6, 2023.

The Romanian, who won the 2018 French Open and Wimbledon the next year, last featured in the 2022 US Open where she was stunned by Daria Snigur in the first round. She has certainly got a second life with the reduced ban. Pogba and others at the CAS will take a lot of heart from the Halep development, make no mistake.

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