Performance Enhancing Drugs and Boxing
By: Matthew N. Becher
Performance enhancing drugs have been a problem in the sports world for a while now, but when it comes to the sport of boxing, it takes on a whole new level. In the end, if an athlete is taking a banned substance and hits a few more home runs or rides a bicycle faster than their opponent it is sad that an individual felt they needed to cheat, but in boxing the outcome could mean life or death. A fighter is already putting their life on the line when entering the ring, with the added incentive of a steroid being used by your opponent, the outcome could be catastrophic. In the past few months at least 3 major fighters have tested positive for banned substances. All have had different outcomes with their appeals and fights. Why does boxing not have an overall rule and punishment on the use of these drugs?
In March of this Year, Lucas Browne of Australia defeated Ruslan Chagaev in a Heavyweight fight that took place in Grozny, Russia. Browne won by 10th round knockout and later tested positive for the banned substance Clenbuterol, which is used to boost metabolism and lose weight. Browne, claimed he was drugged while in Russia, unknowingly. Browne did get drug tested prior to the fight, in his native Australia, and came up clean. This week his “B” samples came back positive as well, and the result of his fight will be overturned to a No Contest. He has also been stripped of his WBA “regular” heavyweight championship title and will be suspended by the WBA for six months (this really means nothing, since he can fight under any other sanctioning body and anywhere in the world, since Boxing does not have one almighty governing regulatory system).
Francisco Vargas is the undefeated WBC Super Featherweight champion of the world, and is currently getting ready for his highly anticipated showdown with fellow brawling Mexican Orlando Salido. In late April, Vargas, also tested positive for Clenbuterol. He tested positive while both fighters were under the VADA program (Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency), and Vargas claims that he is innocent. His excuse was that he must have gotten the drug in his system while eating contaminated meat in his native Mexico (an excuse that fellow Mexican fighter Erik Morales used in 2012.) Wildly enough, the fight is still scheduled to go on as planned. Salido did not question the result, and does not see it as being a problem. Since the California state commission did not perform the test, instead being tested by another party, in VADA, the commission cannot rule in Vargas’ fate. The fight will go on as planned, and we will see what happens after June 4th.
Finally, the fight for the WBC heavyweight championship of the world, which was to take place in Moscow, Russia between the champion Deontay Wilder and Alexander Povetkin has been cancelled. Povetkin has tested positive for the steroid Meldonium. Wilder was weary of going to Russia only for the fear of being drugged, as Lucas Browne has claimed, but instead it was the Russian who came up positive in his own Country. The WBC has not banned Povetkin, who denies knowingly taking the substance, and will start its own investigation into the matter.
The differences here are all similar with small changes. Browne did not test positive until after the fight. He was paid in full, won and went home. After the fact, his victory was overturned, he was stripped of his “regular” title and banned by the WBA (again, he can still fight, just not under any WBA sanctioned events). Vargas and Salido are still going to fight. The fact is, if a fighter does not fight, he does not get paid, which leaves the innocent Salido in a predicament. He has put in the work, hired the trainers and members of his team. If he does not fight Vargas, even though Vargas came up positive for a steroid, neither man will get paid, and that’s a lot of time and money to lose out on. Wilder, the heavyweight champion, seemed to make the easy decision and leave. For him, the money did not matter, since his wellbeing would be at an even greater risk, fighting a professional heavyweight in their own backyard. Wilder will not receive his multimillion dollar payday, but it will not be hard to find another fight to take this one’s place.
On another note, late last year, during the Klitschko vs. Fury heavyweight championship fight that took place in Germany, Fury refused to drink or eat anything until he was out of the country entirely. Germany is Klitschko’s second home and Fury was very fearful of any of his post-fight meals or drinks to be contaminated and being wrongfully accused of cheating and his upset victory being overturned. People saw Fury as being a bit of a “wacko” for even thinking that, but now looking back at the Lucas Browne story, Fury might have been really onto something.
In the end, penalties have to be put in place universally for fighters that test positive for banned substances. Too much is at risk for steroids in this sport. Not only should boxers have to serve lengthy suspensions and fines that will deter anyone else from taking the chance of using these drugs, but the fighters on the other end who did absolutely nothing wrong should be able to get compensation for the monetary losses that they endure. Remember this isn’t a man trying to run or swim faster than another man. This is boxing, where any punch can end your life. It’s not a joking matter when it comes to steroids in the sport.
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