Zimbabwe’s highest-ranked female tennis player Valeria Bhunu has been slapped with a lengthy ban by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) after a banned substance, mesterolone was found in an out-of-competition sample.
The 27-year-old Cape Town-based tennis player revealed in a statement on social media that she has been banned until December 2024 for testing positive for a banned substance.
Bhunu tested positive for the banned substance after providing a urine sample in December last year before being formally charged a few weeks later.
She however pleaded her innocence, insisting that she would never knowingly take a banned substance.
“As you may already be aware, a urine sample which I provided in December 2021 tested positive for traces of mesterolone metabolite. I am firmly committed to the principles of clean sport and have never knowingly or intentionally taken any prohibited substances,” Bhunu said in a statement on social media.
The tennis star, who is the daughter of former Tennis Zimbabwe president Regis Bhunu said she still doesn’t know how traces of mesterolone ended up in her system and has been battling to prove her innocence since being notified of the offence.
“I do not know the cause of the positive test. However, I have been advised that the extremely low concentration of Mesterolone metabolite that was detected in my sample (an estimated 0.11 ng/mL) is consistent with the positive test having been caused by a contamination event,” she said.
“I have made considerable efforts to prove my innocence, including spending a large portion of money investigating the cause of the positive test. However, unfortunately, I simply do not have the necessary financial means to fight my case any further. Therefore, I have had no choice but to agree to a settlement with the ITF. Given the circumstances of my case, the ITF has reduced the ordinarily applicable period of ineligibility by nine months, such that I will be eligible to return to competition in December 2024.”
Bhunu, who reached a career-best WTA ranking of 497 in November 2016 has two singles titles on the ITF World Tennis Tour circuit.
She claimed her maiden singles title on the ITF Women’s Tour in 2015 in South Africa and had to endure a long wait before claiming her second title in Monastir, Tunisia in June last year.