Boxing’s Doping Problem: When Will It Stop?
By Will Collett
With no scheduled live boxing for the foreseeable future, it perhaps offers an opportunity to step back and take a look at one of the sports achilles heels and the potential road ahead. Doping. What can be done by those involved in the sport to combat such an epidemic?
The term doping is well known across all sport, however, over the past few years the sport of boxing has seen a growing number of cases.
Doping is serious in every sport, but when a primary aim of professional boxing is to render your opponent unconscious, synthetically increasing the level of your aggression or relentlessness has the potential for monumental repercussions and needs to be dealt with accordingly.
There are five main classes of doping, with the first two probably being the most well-known. Stimulants, make athletes more alert as well as mask fatigue. Anabolic steroids help athletes to train harder and build muscle, whilst Diuretics not only remove fluid from the body, [often associated with fighters making weight] however, also have the capability of masking other drug use. Narcotic analgesics mask pain that may be caused by injury or fatigue whilst peptides and hormones, such as EPO and HGH, give heightened energy levels and build muscle mass.
With more money being pumped into the sport now more than ever, the reason to chat has never been greater. Having seen an unprecedented number of fighters getting caught in the past few years, the temptation is clearly too much for many. Despite a rise in the number of fighters getting caught, fighters are still getting away with such little punishment, offering no deterrent to potential PED users.
One of the worst known cases of doping in recent years for boxing came in April 2019 when Jarrell ’Big Baby’ Miller failed three separate tests ahead of his highly anticipated showdown at MSG against Anthony Joshua.
With his license revoked only in the state of New York and a ban of only 6 months given by the WBA, it seemed as though Miller had been given a complete pass. The reality of the situation was that he had taken EPO, HGH and GW1516 and if this were a sport such as athletics, the ban for such cheating would be nearer 4 years.
Such a minuscule and unrepresentative ban sets such a dangerous precedent for the future. A prospective drugs cheat now looking at the ban they may face for a similar crime, will see no deterrence, only an opportunity worth the risk.
The sad fact is, there is no way of knowing if Miller has ever been clean since he first tested positive in 2014. His work rate has always been a critical factor in his victories, however knowing his track record now, such a work rate for an athlete weighing just shy of 300lbs is suspicious to say the least.
Unfortunately he is just one of countless examples the sport has to offer.
Numerous reasons might lead an athlete to making the decision to take performance enhancing drugs. At the forefront must surely be the desire to win at any cost. All elite athletes look for an edge wherever they can, as at this level, the small advantages make all the difference. The blurring of this line between gaining an edge and cheating however is where the problem starts.
It is an insult to the clean fighters dedicating their lives to the sport, if the dirty fighters are not reprimanded properly.
It must also be considered however, the arrogance of an athlete to assume they are not going to get caught. This points directly to the whole in the system, where offenders are not scared to take the chance, because as it stands the likelihood remains they will only receive a slap on the wrist.
It is possible that there could be more deeply engrained issues that leads someone down this path. A personal insecurity perhaps, doubting their own skill set and ability to win a fight fairly. In some circumstances undoubtedly, boxers will have be pressured by their team, looking to springboard their way to bigger pay days. Ultimately however, the buck stops with the individual fighter.
England boxing who currently work in partnership with UKAD echo this sentiment. They state that all their athletes need to be aware of strict liability. This principle outlines that all athletes are entirely responsible for any banned substance they use or attempt to use. The onus is rightly put directly on the athlete.
This belief corresponds to the ongoing discussion in the difference between human error and intent. Whilst admittedly, it is possible that mistakes made are genuine, there is no room in the sport to accept this as a justification. As long as this is accepted as reasoning, there will always athletes doping with intent getting away with it, using this very excuse.
Looking at the outrage caused within the boxing scene at doping cases, the crux is usually at the judgement. Far too often are soft punishments given for often weighty crimes. This, coupled with the inconsistency across governing bodies and commissions in dishing out penalties, leads to much anguish in the community.
One issue remains that bans are simply not harsh enough to put fighters off taking drugs initially, however another is the significant lack of weight put on any ban of a fighter who brings in significant money. Often examples are made of fighters on small hall shows instead.
What the sport desperately needs is for action to be taken. This could be the formation of an overarching global governing body that takes charge of the entire anti-doping process. Ultimately, there needs to be clear guidelines set out primarily so there is absolute clarity from the offset, in terms of the which punishments match which offence.
Whether it falls to the broadcasters, sanctioning bodies or commissions, action such as this group being created is critical for the longevity and credibility of the sport.
Currently in the UK, the British Boxing Board of Control requires all fighters to be tested by UKAD. This organisation does however have some shortfalls. Many fighters have publicly stated that they have never been randomly tested under this program. Now whilst they do a great job within their means, their current level of funding make it unachievable to test all fighters currently signed up.
Another available branch of testing is the rigorous VADA testing. This organisation provide thorough random testing throughout a fighters training camp. The issue with this method of testing is the inability for this to be transitioned across entire undercards. With significant costs associated with such a test, promoters only deem it financially viable to test those fighters at the top end of the bill in significant televised match ups.
If there is to be no neutral body that is formed, the current existing governing bodies need to begin to work together in order to stamp doping out of the sport.
Currently the lack of consistency in delivering punishments worldwide is simply just not good enough.
Taking a darker turn, it cannot be ignored the potential there lies for fatal implications. By introducing performing enhancing drugs into your system you are simply increasingly the likelihood of such a scenario taking place.
Change needs to be made before such an event is to take place. Not only would the life of a boxer be tragically taken, but an event like this would cripple the sport and it’s reputation, perhaps irreversibly.
It is extremely difficult to say where exactly the blame lays for the current state of affairs, however, not focusing on that and taking proactive measures in eradicating drug cheats from the sport are moves that need to be made.
So much has been done to build the sports standing over the last ten or so years, it would be devastating to see an avoidable situation ruin the reputation of such a respectable sport.
With what is hopefully the majority in the sport willing to rid the problem, a movement in the right direction to eradicate such a scourge on the sport would be a great way to kickstart the post COVID-19 season.