WHAT a week for the World Boxing Council.
News in brief from the organisation: A shiny belt and the promise of a world ranking to the winner of an eight-rounder between two famous novices in Saudi Arabia; Lukasz Rozanski or Alen Babic will soon be able to call themselves a world bridgerweight champion; and Conor Benn, who doesn’t appear to have a boxing licence from any commission in the world, can return to their rankings after an investigation ruled that the consumption of eggs might have been the reason why he failed two drug tests last year.
Shiny, attention-seeking belts and bogus championships are nothing new. We should pay them little attention. But the Benn ruling, from an organisation who always claim they’re trying to create a safer and fairer sport, is far reaching. Not because their ruling on Benn is conclusive, and it clearly isn’t, but because of the messaging it gives out.
Yet again, the sport looks ridiculous. Dominos Pizza quickly mocked up a photo of a pizza loaded with hard boiled eggs and called it, ‘The Conor Benn special.’ The disbelief amongst the wider public – ‘What, eggs? Seriously?’ – tells its own tale.
Boxing News understands that Benn isn’t happy about egg-gate either. Note that there was little in the way of celebration about the WBC’s decision. What Benn and his lawyers wanted to prove was not that he was eating five eggs a day from imported sources (clomifene is not allowed in UK farming), but a problem with the testing in the first place, with a suggestion that the amount of clomifene discovered should not have turned back a positive test. But the WBC were quick to point out that their procedures, which are essentially the procedures of the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA), were indeed fair and correct.
“Mr Benn denied at all times the intentional or knowingly ingestion of any banned substances,” the organisation stated. “His defence against the Adverse Finding centered on allegations of potential laboratory analysis failures and irregularities in connection with the analysis of his samples and of the results of the samples’ testing. The WBC consulted several experts in anti-doping laboratory analysis, including an expert consultant with over 30 years of experience in WADA and IOC accredited laboratory settings. The WBC concluded that there was absolutely no fault attributable to the laboratory that analysed Mr Benn’s samples. Further, the WBC reaffirms the unquestionable integrity of VADA and the sample collection agencies and laboratories which services VADA uses in connection with the WBC CBP.”
So, from that, one can conclude that Benn indeed had an illegal substance in his body. But one can also query if there’s any point whatsoever in the supposedly revolutionary WBC Clean Boxing Program if positive tests are never the bottom line. “There was no conclusive evidence that Mr Benn engaged in intentional or knowing ingestion of clomifene,” the sanctioning body said. Not a surprise, really, when one considers how difficult evidence that proves ‘intentional or knowing ingestion’ would be to uncover unless, of course, an athlete filmed themselves taking it. Chances are, even if they did that, they’d probably decide against providing the video to authorities.
What we don’t know is exactly how far this investigation went and how keen the WBC really were to not just hear Benn’s side of the story but to ascertain the complete truth. Speaking to BN on January 30, Mauricio Sulaiman said: “We always believe in the innocence of athletes until they are proven guilty. I have known the Benn family for many, many years and I’m just hoping this gets resolved quickly.”
Four days before that conversation, Benn and his legal team were called to a meeting where the WBC explained that there was nothing wrong with the testing procedures and Team Benn were then invited to submit further evidence in regard to his diet at the time of the first failed test (July 25). A question must be why that information wasn’t already a part of Benn’s defence? Furthermore, why do we not operate in a sport where a conclusive test is enough evidence that wrongdoing has been committed, even if a consequence of negligence?
“Mr Benn’s documented and highly-elevated consumption of eggs during the times relevant to the sample collection, raised a reasonable explanation for the Adverse Finding,” the WBC concluded after getting extra information on Benn’s ingestion habits.
Another thing to consider: What would the WBC gain from ruling against Benn bar a legal battle? This is an organisation that goes out of its way to make friends with pretty much everyone. An organisation that makes belts for eight-rounders, that creates extra weight classes and introduces clean boxing programmes with loopholes aplenty.
Back in 2018, again in conversation with BN, Sulaiman spoke of his absolute certainty that Canelo Alvarez had ingested contaminated meat before he tested positive for banned substance, clenbuterol. Back then the WBC supremo claimed that, in the space of two days, eight restaurants in which Alvarez had eaten while on vacation had been ‘investigated.’ The reason why it took only two days, Sulaiman explained, was because they’d previously ‘investigated’ Francisco Vargas and discovered he too ate contaminated meat. “So we knew from day one that Canelo ‘doping’ was from meat ingestion and it was not a doping violation.”
Even so, Canelo was served with a six-month suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. At the time it seemed a pathetic punishment, given that the Mexican merely spent the time recuperating from injury and preparing for a lucrative rematch with Gennadiy Golovkin. But, in hindsight, at least it was something.
Benn is supposedly in training for his return while also voicing his plans to sue the British Boxing Board of Control for £3.5m because they pulled his October bout with Chris Eubank Jnr. Interestingly, last weekend Benn spoke exclusively to the Mail, the same newspaper that broke the story about his failed test in the first place. There are claims that the Board, who felt powerless to stop the fight due to legal issues stemming from Benn passing UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) tests, leaked the news to the paper in an effort to draw the public’s attention. Robert Smith, of the Board, has denied those claims.
So what are we left with? Conor Benn, getting increasingly agitated, making legal threats because a governing body took their time concluding that a fight could not occur after he had failed two tests. And the BBB of C, left in the unenviable position of going to court with financial resources dwarfed by those at the disposal of a fighter they’re supposed to govern, could soon be rendered completely powerless.
Which brings us back to that issue of messaging. What does all this project to the fighters, to the fans, to those who invest in the sport? It certainly isn’t screaming that the presence of performance enhancing drugs in an athlete leads to punishment. And if that isn’t the message, the alternative is horrifying.