Last week in this space, I was extolling the virtues of boxing when I wrote of my great passion for it as my favourite sport in my 65 years in journalism.
Within days, it had counterpunched with a double whammy following the deaths of two young boxers and a new drug scandal involving one of the leading British heavyweights, Dillian Whyte, who tested positive for a banned substance only a few days before he fought and defeated Óscar Rivas at The O2 in London.
The ensuing rumpus and mystery surrounding the doping situation rumbles on.
Whyte claimed he had been cleared to fight by a ‘independent panel’, the constituents of which were not revealed and there has been a baffling silence from the British Boxing Board of Control and UK Anti-Doping (exclusively appointed by the Board to handle all anti-doping matters) while the promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, is on record as saying that he was aware of the adverse finding but that the fight was allowed to go ahead because the independent panel had given permission.
Apparently the panel met in secret on the Saturday morning, just 12 hours before the contest, despite it being known that Whyte’s sample had proved positive. Yet no further action will be taken until the B sample has been tested.
I’m not alone in finding this murky business very, very odd indeed. Of course cancelling the Sky-backed Box Office promotion, also televised to the United States, would have cost millions, but surely that cannot be the reason why it was allowed to proceed.
The consequences could have put not only Rivas in danger but the entire sport. As another top promoter Frank Warren has pointed out, should the Colombian, a top-10 listed heavyweight and former world title contender, been seriously hurt, brain-damaged or even fatally injured as a result, "it would’ve meant the end of boxing in this country".
Warren, who has campaigned vigorously against the worryingly increasing use of drugs in boxing, wrote on his website: “During fight week, Dillian Whyte was informed of an adverse finding in a recent anti-doping test and nearly all concerned were made aware of this also. So Dillian knew, his promoter Eddie Hearn has admitted he knew and the British Boxing Board of Control and UKAD were obviously in the picture.
“Normally, under these circumstances, a boxer is immediately suspended and is given seven days to respond. Of the two samples taken – A and B – the B sample is retained to be tested, at the request of the boxer at a later date if he refutes the findings in the A sample. In the meantime, press conferences continued with as if nothing had happened and they continued to sell the fight against Oscar Rivas to be broadcast on pay-per-view.
“Strangely, most athletes wait months to have a hearing, but on this occasion a hearing took place on the Saturday morning, which was kept secret, for reasons we don’t know. But, the one person this should not have been kept from is Oscar Rivas, who was in the ring with someone who – nobody disputes this at the moment – had tested positive for a PED. Ultimately, his life was on the line.”
As Warren further pointed out, apparently the World Boxing Council (WBC) – whose interim title was at stake – knew nothing about it, so why weren’t they informed as they go to great lengths to promote their own Clean Boxing Program and would probably have withdrawn their sanctioning of the bout.
“I think it is outrageous that a fighter is allowed to step into the ring to take on someone with a doping cloud hanging over their head and be totally unaware of what is going on. Why has all this been conducted in secret?” added Warren.
“The man who was risking his life in opposition surely had the right to know all this and a duty of care has not been upheld. This is the essence of what boxing is about, the safety of boxers.”
Whyte climbed off the canvas at The O2 to claim a unanimous points victory over Rivas, which the Colombian is demanding should be annulled. It also made Whyte a mandatory challenger for the WBC title held by Deontay Wilder, a status he presumably will forfeit if found guilty.
In that situation the self-styled “Bodysnatcher“ from Brixton, whose only previous defeat was to Anthony Joshua, is likely to face at least an eight-year ban because he has previous.
He has already served a two-year suspension handed down in 2012 for taking the performance-enhancing drug methylexanamine, which he said he took unknowingly. As he is 31, it surely would mean the end of his career.
Now the WBC, clearly angry at being kept in the dark about the failed test, has suspended Whyte and removed him as the interim champion and mandatory challenger for Wilder‘s title pending a full investigation into the affair. Quite right, too.
Even his own promoter, Hearn, is on record as saying any fighter caught offending for second time should be banned for life.
There are more important things in this sport than making more money and the people involved in this scandal should be called to account. But will they?
On a wider scale what is alarming for boxing is that it is now up there in the top bracket of drugs use alongside athletics, cycling and weightlifting, with a large number of high-profile cases over the past couple of years both internationally and in Britain. UKAD currently has 13 British boxers on their list who have been positively tested for drugs but none are named.
Even more disturbing is that more often than not when big-name boxers fail tests that the boxing authorities, seemingly anxious to protect their financial interests, give the miscreants a slap on the wrist rather than a punitive punch on the nose.
One prize example of this was in the case of the Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez, arguably the biggest money-spinner in world boxing who was given a just a backdated six-month ban for failing two tests, claiming he had ingested meat contaminated with muscle-building clenbuterol. Within months he was being lauded by the World Boxing Council (WBC) as an icon and outstanding champion and given an honorary belt.
The two boxers whom died last week within five days of each after their respective bouts were Hugo Santillan of Argentina and Russian Maxim Dadashebv.
The 23-year-old Santillan collapsed shortly after his WBC Latino silver lightweight bout with Eduardo Javier Abreu in Argentina ended in a draw.
He underwent emergency surgery but died in hospital.
Dadashev, 28, had been hospitalised with bleeding on the brain after his International Boxing Federation (IBF) welterweight fight against Subriel Matias was stopped at the end of the 11th round last Friday. He too underwent emergency surgery but failed to recover.
Such fatalities are indeed tragic and to be greatly lamented. Yet while boxing is probably the highest risk of all sports, it is by no means the one with the most fatalities. Rugby, swimming, mountaineering and marathon running are among those who have more. However, there remains a need for more stringency in terms of safety.
As there is in the detection of drugs in boxing if it is not to become one of those sports, like athletics, where seeing is not always believing.