By Alan Hubbard
This weekend Billy Joe Saunders was due to be defending his World Boxing Organisation (WBO) belt in Boston, USA, against American Demetrius Andrade.
Instead he will be kicking his heels and probably punching the walls in frustration at his Hertfordshire home.
The 29-year-old Saunders (26-0, 12 KOs) was originally supposed to be facing his mandatory challenger Andrade, 30, (25-0, 16 KOs) but tested positive last August for a substance called oxilofrine during a test conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) and he has been subsequently denied his boxing license by the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission (MSAC)
Yet the substance, found in most nasal sprays as a decongestant, is not banned when used out of competition by either the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and Saunders has breached no British Boxing Board of Control regulations.
VADA is a US-based organisation founded to offer and promote effective anti-doping programmes in boxing and mixed martial arts. But Britain recognises only tests conducted by WADA and UKAD.
It seems to have developed into a battle of the acronyms and Massachusetts, which these days is not exactly an epicentre of world boxing, has perversely decided to accept the VADA finding and refused to license Saunders for the contest, even though the British Boxing Board of Control have done so.
One wonders why Massachusetts have been so obdurate. Is it a case muscle-flexing or are promotional politics involved?
Instead Andrade will now meet an obscure Namibian fighter, 33-year-old Walter Kautondokwa, who is a household name only in his native Windhoek, his 17-0 record composed against opposition with tongue-twisting monikers even more difficult to pronounce than his own, such as Billi Facundo Godoy, Meshack Mwankemwa, Obodai Sai, Muhamad Sebyala and Chimwemwe Chiotcha.
While it is true that Saunders, signed by Frank Warren as a talented teenage GB Olympian back in 2008 at Beijing, sometimes does himself no favours with out-of the-ring behaviour and comments that range from the stupidly laddish to the unacceptably boorish (only recently he paid a hefty £100,000 penalty to the Board of Control following one particularly unsavoury incident), he has acknowledged his misdemeanours, paid the price and as a professional boxer his ring record is unblemished.
His last performance, against the French Canadian David Lemieux in Montreal last December bordered on the sublime.
He certainly deserves sympathy for the way he has been treated over the current issue.
‘These days anti-doping is in a mess. The anti-doping authorities are making too many cock-ups, to coin a phrase’
Apart from anything else, because of the local Commission’s intransigence and wrong application of the findings, fans have been denied a potentially classic confrontation between two unbeaten fighters of similar age, records and aggressive southpaw styles.
Explaining why this is so, Saunders’ promoter Frank Warren says they are now planning a legal challenge to the State Supreme Court.
He points out that Saunders underwent testing by both WADA and UKAD as mandated by the British Boxing Board of Control. And, voluntarily, VADA at the request of the promoter of the Boston fight (Eddie Hearn), not the MSAC.
Warren says:”All four tests carried out by UKAD – WADA’s UK affiliate – and subsequent tests performed by VADA on Mr Saunders contained no trace of any prohibited substance.
“To be clear on this, the MSAC governance on doping regulations expressly adheres to the prohibited list set down by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
“The WADA list distinguishes between substances prohibited ‘at all times’ and substances prohibited ‘in competition’.
“The low level of the chemical detected in the test supplied by Billy Joe – ingested via a nasal spray – is not a prohibited substance when ingested ‘out of competition’ (this is up to the day before the contest).
“The VADA test was conducted ‘out of competition’. And so was not prohibited for the purpose of the application of the WADA list and therefore the application of the MSAC rules to Billy Joe.
“I have read comments that MSAC had no choice as a failed test is a failed test. However, these comments are, with respect, misleading and ignorant of the fact the MSAC apply the WADA code.”
It all seems somewhat confusing but the simple fact is that for whatever reason the MSAC have got it wrong. They are the real dopes in this.
Moreover, these days anti-doping is in a mess. The anti-doping authorities are making too many cock-ups, to coin a phrase.
There is little uniformity about what or what does not constitute an illegal substance or the application of appropriate punitive measures by the relevant sports authorities for those who cynically flout the rules
They are also losing the drugs war with those athletes, notably in track and field, cycling and now sadly boxing, who are forever finding new ways to cheat the system by either avoiding tests or masking what they are taking.
UKAD’s mishandling of the Tyson Fury affair can also be cited as an example of maladministration while WADA have disgracefully bottled it with their abject capitulation to the Kremlin in prematurely allowing a rogue nation where doping has been scandalously endemic, back into international competition.
The anti-doping fraternity have rarely had the respect of most athletes and now seem to have lost the support of the public because of discrepancies in their findings and the failure to insist on the imposition of more punitive sanctions.
As for Saunders, he has not only forfeited a prospective US$2million purse, but a hard-earned world title that he has now formally relinquished while awaiting to fight a battle in court rather than the ring.
He may be a Silly Billy at times but in my view he is no drugs cheat.
He is not someone who cuts easily in fights but this time he has been stitched up without a punch being thrown.