[Editor’s Note: This was originally published on the Yahoo! Boxing page in 2013, before the issue of real PEDs testing had been bastardized for the sake of showy appeasement (i.e. :”voluntary” testing) and before said appeasement had been facilitated by media whores looking for cash-outs via a “cause.”
Unfortunately, Yahoo, in their infinite wisdom, decided to erase all work from their paid contributors when they eliminated the Yahoo Contributor Network.
But this piece is certainly worthy of a home and, disappointingly so, is still pertinent to today’s fight scene.]
For those new to boxing, it should be pointed out that the sport does not deal well with controversy.
Problems plaguing the sport from the very beginning are still doing so and the closest it gets to reform is some hollow words from media, empty promises from promoters, and bureaucratic shuffling of papers at the commission level.
The latest controversy, though, is of the life and death variety.
Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) have taken up a growing space in boxing’s collective consciousness, but true to form, the sport has been slow to act and unwilling to push for true reform.
In the media, everyone from dedicated cause-chasing yellow journalists to not-so-dedicated blogger hobbyists have taken on PEDs, but the issue always gets bogged down in laborious testing jargon or titillating “who’s guilty” gossip.
Unanimously, fans and media are against performing enhancing drugs in boxing. The real question, though, is in how to actually handle the situation.
Richard Ings, former Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA), believes that not only is the issue being ignored at all authoritative levels of the sport, but that the recent trend of voluntary PEDs testing is all but useless in assuring a clean boxing product.
An expert in designing anti-doping and anti-corruption programs in a professional sports environment, Ings agreed to give this interview regarding the fact and fiction involved in boxing’s current PEDs debate:
Question: What’s your take on voluntary PEDs testing and its effectiveness as a tool for change in boxing?
Answer: Voluntary testing for PED’s is simply cosmetic without mandatory rules that apply for any positive, including globally recognized sanctions that comply with the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Code.
Frankly put, so, this trend of voluntary testing is merely for cosmetic purposes? You know, to just give the impression of propriety while not really addressing the deeper issues?
While I do acknowledge the commitment of organizations like VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) to provide a platform for boxers to engage in voluntary testing, such fragmented testing without uniform rules and globally recognized sanctions can in no way assure fans and competitors that the sport is clean.
Is this, really, something akin to putting the kids in charge of the candy store, so to speak? For example, short-term contracts for testing are made, but there’s no real regulatory or commission bite behind the testing. So, what happens when someone gets caught? Bad publicity seems to be the extent of the punishment in all three major cases of failed voluntary tests so far. Erik Morales vs. Danny Garcia was especially bad as Garcia was forced, at practically the last minute, to choose between losing a million dollar pay day or entering the ring with someone who had tested positive for a banned substance twice.
A comprehensive anti-doping program for a sport is substantially more than just conducting a few tests before a fight. It involves 24/7×365 day testing without any notice, immediate provisional suspensions for boxers returning an A sample positive and comprehensive and globally recognized rules that apply for any doping violation determined by independent sporting tribunals.
Is it a matter of boxing completely embracing comprehensive PEDs testing or just relying on occasional voluntary testing as a feel good promotional tool?
Professional boxing at present is devoid of a best practice anti-doping framework. Without comprehensive 24/7 365 days per year anytime, anywhere no-notice blood and urine testing against the full WADA Prohibited list, fans and competitors cannot be assured that every effort is being made to detect PED use in the sport.
Why would VADA or the USADA, or any testing agency for that matter, be willing to take these short term, voluntary gigs when most experts would agree that only year-round testing by an independent agency can be effective– and even then, not entirely so?
The collection of samples is the simplest aspect of anti-doping. It is the independent management of any positive and the mutual recognition of any sanction that is critical. This aspect is missing from professional boxing anti-doping programs. The participation of USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) in non-WADA compliant anti-doping programs is a surprise.
Some in the media have created a VADA vs. USADA debate when it comes to PEDs testing. What are your feelings on the two agencies and their ability to get the job done?
The issue is not about one organization versus the other. Both are very capable. The issue is that professional boxing does not have a unified WADA compliant anti-doping program. Unless and until professional boxing uniformly adopts the WADA Code then fans and competitors can have no faith that all that can be done to stop PED use is being done.
Confessed PEDs distributors Victor Conte and Angel Heredia are still deeply involved in the sport. Both have publicly embraced the idea of testing. What’s your take on these two having continued access to boxers and, at the same time, first-hand knowledge of doping that far surpasses that of any commission and most of those at independent testing agencies?
I have no personal view on either gentleman. I will note that in adopting the WADA Code, a sport adopts anti-doping rules that not only apply to competitors but also apply to their support personnel as well.
What do you feel is the reason boxing has been left largely unregulated in this area, especially concerning the real risks the fighters take?
To implement an anti-doping program, professional boxing needs its many and varied commissions, promoters, and competitors to agree to a uniform WADA compliant anti-doping program with mutual recognition of sanctions globally across all such stakeholders. While this may appear a big challenge given the stakeholder complexities, professional boxing carries significant risk of PED use given the level of injury and the prize purses on offer. It is now a matter for the various stakeholders to come together and agree on adopting the WADA code which over 100 other sports and 200 countries have already adopted.
Has there been too much emphasis on the chemical side of the issue and too little on good, old fashioned investigative work when it comes to who’s doing something illegal?
While blood and urine testing is an important aspect of anti-doping, the types of PED’s and doping methods available to any boxer include many that cannot be detected with even the most comprehensive testing. As a result, modern anti-doping frameworks include an investigative component to uncover doping that testing is incapable of uncovering. Anti-doping organizations with an investigative capability are reporting that as many as 1/3 of doping violations uncovered did not result from traditional sample testing but from information-sharing partnerships with law enforcement and border control agencies.
As someone who has been on the other side of the desk, so to speak, can there be true PEDs reform in boxing without significant regulatory reform?
Professional boxing is currently not addressing the risk of PED use in the sport compared to other global sports. The sport would be advised to establish a cross stakeholder working party with a view to developing a step by step process for the sport as a global entity to adopt the WADA Code.
Given your experience in dealing with anti-doping and anti-corruption programs, would you say that it is necessary for boxing to first develop a real and centralized, independent authority before attempting true PEDs reform? Boxing is famously disorganized (and international) and it would appear to be almost impossible to get true cooperation on this issue under the current structural model.
Professional boxing and its many and varied stakeholders should agree to establish a World Boxing Integrity Commission with a mandate to build anti-doping and anti-corruption rules that apply across all stakeholders globally. Stakeholders could contribute funding to the WBIC as it builds a common platform for fighting PED’s and corruption across the spectrum of the sport at the professional level.
In your opinion, does boxing, on any level (commission, promotional, managerial), even want to truly deal with this issue?
The answer to this question is to measure the commitment of professional boxing to develop a common anti-doping framework accepted and supported by all professional boxing stakeholders globally. The external view is that professional boxing has made no steps to date to develop such a best practice anti-doping system for the sport.