Alan Hubbard

When a world heavyweight champion fails a drugs test there is clearly something rotten in the state of boxing.

But all might not be quite what it seems.

I have no idea if the new World Boxing Association (WBA) heavyweight champion Lucas Browne is a drugs cheat but, like his British promoter Ricky Hatton, I believe he should be given every opportunity to prove that he isn’t.

There is something very odd about the positive drugs test on the big Aussie following his successful title fight with Uzbekistan’s Ruslan Chaegev in Grozny. Something surely worthy of an immediate and thorough investigation by the WBA and relevant anti-doping authorities.

Why on earth would a heavyweight boxer take the banned substance clenbuterol, which my medical friends tell me is principally a fat burner and diuretic? Surely the last thing any heavyweight wants to do before a fight is lose weight.  

True, it has other properties and some athletes have used it as a stimulant but it is easily detectable so why would Browne have personally insisted that the proper VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) procedures should be strictly followed if he was up to anything dodgy?

As we know only too well from recent revelations, Russia is mired in doping skulduggery. They are past masters in the dark art of drugs use...and abuse. You don’t need Lord Coe to tell you that. Or Maria Sharapova.

Who knows what went on in Chechnya when the tests were performed?

Boxing hits some strange outposts these days as the sport’s global appeal widens, but who would have thought a world heavyweight championship would wash up in the war-ravaged Russian satellite of Chechnya?

In the capital Grozny - a name which ominously translates from the Russian as ‘fearsome’ - Chaegev and Sydney-born Browne contested the former’s WBA ‘regular’ title (Tyson Fury is now deemed their ‘super’ champ such is the WBA’s idiosyncrasy) in the presence of a President who is handy enough with his own fist to have once chastised one of his errant ministers in the ring over two one-sided rounds.

Australia's first-ever world heavyweight champion Lucas Browne is adamant he is not a drugs cheat after recording a positive test
Australia's first-ever world heavyweight champion Lucas Browne is adamant he is not a drugs cheat after recording a positive test ©Getty Images

The 36-year-old Browne (24-0-21 ko's) became Australia's first-ever world heavyweight champion when he decked and stopped Chagaev in the tenth round after being on the floor himself earlier in the rumbustious fight on March 5.

It was a result the Chechnyans least wanted or expected, especially the President himself of whom Chaegev is a personal favourite. 

Browne says he and his team were well aware of the risks in going into a relatively lawless place like Grozny to fight a reigning champion from Eastern Europe and took every precaution.

So is it possible his food or drink was spiked? According to Browne that is the only plausible explanation but it will be hard to prove. Russians are experts at covering up dirty deeds. You have only to recall the infamous case of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB officer given political asylum here in Britain but who died as a victim of lethal polonium after taking tea with some of his old comrades in London.

That example may be a bit far-fetched but I do tend to have some sympathy with Browne when he insists that he is not a drugs cheat and is a staunch opponent of drugs use, declaring: ”I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I knew I had cheated and tried to get away with it.”

Of course they all say that but in Browne’s case he surely had too much to lose knowing he was on dangerous territory anyway in Chechnya.

Boxing is certainly not exempt from the scourge of drug abuse these days but I have never heard of the use among fighters of clenbuterol which can be used to treat asthma, but can also help build up lean muscle mass and burn off fat. Apparently it is known as the doper’s delight and first came to prominence in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.

Mind you, who had heard of meldonium until it was revealed as Sharapova’s favourite tipple?

Clenbuterol’s growth-promoting ability has also found favour with cattle farmers and the fact that humans can ingest the substance inadvertently by eating beef has in the past put pressure on anti-doping rules, which deem the slightest trace to be a doping infringement.

Lucas Browne failed a drugs test after earning a surprise victory over Ruslan Chagaev of Uzbekistan
Lucas Browne failed a drugs test after earning a surprise victory over Ruslan Chagaev of Uzbekistan ©Getty Images

Apparently there have been some cases reported in Australia. So did Browne tuck into a couple of juicy clenbuterol-infected steaks before he left for Chechnya? Who knows.

We await the result of the testing of his B sample but if this is positive he will have a far tougher fight on his hands than he did against Chaegev, for the anti-doping regulations stipulate unequivocally that an athlete is personally responsible for any substance which goes into his or her own body.

Interestingly the unbeaten British super-bantamweight Kid Galahad - voted Best Young Boxer of the Year by the Boxing Writers’ Club - has had his two-year ban for taking the steroid Stanozolol reduced on appeal after UK Anti-Doping apparently accepted his plea that his drink was spiked by his own brother after an argument.

However the European cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew has warned that boxing has a "major problem" with drugs, following news of Browne's positive test.

Bellew strongly feels the sport needs to wake up to the issue.

"I think professional boxing has a major problem with drugs," he said.

"There are not lives at risk in a 100 metres race. There are in a boxing ring and that is why it is so alarming."

The Liverpudlian believes those additional risks attached to boxing mean any fighters who fail tests should be subject to longer suspensions.

Britain's Tony Bellew has called for life bans for boxers who take prohibited substances
Britain's Tony Bellew has called for life bans for boxers who take prohibited substances ©Getty Images

"Steroids allow people to train much, much harder and recover much, much quicker,” he added.

"If someone is taking them in the couple of months in the lead-up to a fight they have such a huge advantage.

"I suggest nothing less than a lifetime ban. It shouldn't take someone dying in the ring at the hands of a steroid-user for this to happen."

Bellew himself, who starred in the latest Rocky film Creed, is next due to fight Congolese lIlunga Makabu for the WBC cruiserweight world title in Liverpool this summer.

Who knows how many more boxers will have cried foul over drugs testing by then?