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Why boxing must act now to save its future

boxing
Dave Thompson
Or boxing will reach the point of no return, writes Matt Christie

*This article is the subject of a legal complaint from Dillian Whyte

WHEN boxing behaves badly, as it has in the last fortnight, it screams its shortcomings to the world at a volume no other sport can reach. We cover our ears, and pretend it’s all nothing to do with us, but it gets harder and harder to ignore the noise in our heads.

The guilt we feel for being involved in such a dirty game is becoming almost too much to bear. And if you’re not feeling any responsibility, if you are happy to shrug your shoulders and insist none of it is your fault, then it’s likely the opposite is true. Because of course it’s your fault. We’re all to blame in some way for this glorified crime spree, for the pounding fists and the broken rules.

In the last fortnight we’ve seen two boxers lose their lives as a direct consequence of taking too many punches, another slip into a coma following a sparring session and, in the most high profile farce the sport has experienced in recent years, a leading heavyweight walk into the ring and defeat another just days after micro traces of epimethandienone and hydroxymethandienone (metabolites of banned substance, dianabol) were found in his system. What kind of sport is this?

More concerning than Dillian Whyte being allowed to fight by both UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and the British Boxing Board of Control following a hearing on the day of the July 20 fight, is that Oscar Rivas was allowed to enter the ring while completely oblivious to the adverse test and the subsequent ruling.

Irrespective of the truth that we’re yet to find out, the truth that we’re told will prove Whyte’s innocence, Rivas should have been involved when the decision was made that the fight went ahead. That he wasn’t looks bad on Whyte, his team, his promoters and the authorities. While the initial reporting of the incident was lacking in detail, Thomas Hauser’s important report said enough to trigger alarm bells all over the boxing world. It made people wonder how many times this might have happened before. And above all, it demanded more information from those at the heart of the story; the subsequent failure of those involved to disclose the complete truth, in a sport that has long gotten away with keeping secrets, means the hopes we have for clarity are already dispersing.

Boxing News understands that the Board were aware of Whyte’s test late on Wednesday (July 17), with the documentation confirming the adverse findings coming early on Thursday morning. At this stage, with concerns being voiced that the fight could not possibly occur, a press conference was staged to sell the Box Office event some more. The fighter’s legal team were involved and an independent panel, who have the final say as a consequence of the Board’s legally binding agreement with UKAD, cleared Whyte to fight on the morning of the bout.

Dillian Whyte catches Oscar Rivas at the O2 Arena in London Dave Thompson

What makes all of this this even more depressing is that it stems from the UK, this great country that supposedly prides itself on fair play, and – to be frank – a country that has handled the issue of drugs in boxing, at least at the highest level, pretty badly in recent years. The long and winding cases of Tyson and Hughie Fury, both permitted to fight after failing tests in 2015, springs to mind. While the Board continue to fight the dangers of PEDs, this latest development highlights that their relationship with UKAD is long overdue a review.

Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn can claim he’s innocent in the Whyte case. He can claim, with some justification, that the decision was taken out of his hands by confidentiality laws but – in a boxing world paralysed by performance enhancing drug abuse – the failure to disclose the truth to the visiting fighter is a massive black mark on British boxing. One suspects Hearn’s fury at the way the situation has been handled by the media would be altogether different if the roles were reversed – if Rivas had illegal substances in his system that Team Whyte knew nothing about, and he’d gone on to win the fight.

It’s important that we do not make judgements on Whyte at this stage but, for as long as the mystery remains, the harder it will be to clear his name. Logic should tell us that the Brixton fighter would not have entered the ring unless those involved in the decision-making were suitably convinced of his innocence. But logic goes out of the window when all we know about the panel who made the decision is that they were ‘independent’.

That Whyte passed all Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) testing during the build-up to July 20 should also be noted, so too his desire to take part in those tests. The fact that tests can be failed without banned substances being knowingly ingested must be another factor. Even so, the reasoning for allowing rules to be broken at the final hurdle must – absolutely must – be called into question. And the answers must remove all doubt about Matchroom Boxing’s integrity, about UKAD’s policies and the Board’s ability to govern the sport in this country without interference.

The deaths of two boxers that followed should have no bearing on the Whyte case, but the disasters should remind everyone in the sport exactly what is at stake each time two fighters walk into a boxing ring. But that the incidents were days apart, and consequently amplified, leaves the sport on the ropes, virtually defenceless.

One hopes that in time this will all be a blessing in disguise. The only way for that to happen, the only way for the deaths of Russia’s Maxim Dadashev and Argentina’s Hugo Santillan to serve some purpose, is if we all unite and demand better, if we strive to improve, not only in the face of disaster, but at all times. The truth is, in a sport like boxing, with myriad commissions all operating in different ways under bendable rules and regulations, it might be too much to ask.

Acting on behalf on Dadashev’s widow, the Russian Boxing Federation are preparing a case against Maryland State Athletic Commission, which commissioned Subriel Matias’ victory over the 28-year-old at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill on July 19.

“We have already involved lawyers, who are preparing documents,” a spokesperson for the RBF said regarding Dadashev’s July 23 death. “There are two factors for the submission of the lawsuit. The first is the suspicion that the authenticity of Maxim’s medical documents were not checked and that he suffered from prior health problems. The second factor is there were violations in providing emergency services to the boxer inside and outside the ring, that also could lead to this outcome.”

One hopes justice is done, either way. But that it takes the death of a fighter to trigger such investigations is a constant worry because if Dadashev had survived, it’s unlikely any potential shortcomings in the policies of the commission would have come to light. More disturbing than that is the footage of Hugo Santillan, clearly distressed and only able to stand because his arm was being held by the referee, as he awaited the verdict of his draw with Eduardo Javier Abreu in Buenos Aires on July 20. He died, aged just 23, five days later.

The lessons are always there. This week it emerged that the son of former world lightweight titlist Jose Luis Castillo, 21-year-old Christian Castillo, suffered a stroke after a sparring session in Tijuana, Mexico. At the time of writing, he was in a coma, fighting for his life.

What kind of sport allows a world ranked heavyweight boxer to enter the ring after adverse findings in a performance enhancing drug test? The same sport that demands its participants hit each other so hard that death is a potential end. The kind of sport that needs to sort itself out to survive. The kind of sport that is in dire need of universal reform, that needs the help of everyone involved to unite, to work together and expose the muck and grime rather than hiding it away in the hope that nobody will find it. Because if it carries on like this – the lawlessness, the flagrant muddying of the rules and the glory at all costs attitude – then the case for survival is grim.

1 Comment

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  • When there’s a negative test UKAD has to follow a process laid down by WADA, this process includes the athlete giving evidence to an independent panel, in the UK that’s the National Anti-Doping Panel, who can use the information they hold and the verbal evidence from the athlete together to come to a decision about the negative test.

    This is the process that WADA lays down, so why go through all of this, if the WBC and the media are not going to accept the NAPD recommendation?

    Whyte now has to go through being questioned again but this time by the WBC instead of an independent panel.
    Why can’t the WBC just ask for a report from the NAPD that includes all the information on the case, why start their own investigation with the possibility of reaching a political rather than a factual decision?

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