Boxing: Drugs ring threat spreads to Britain

Amir Khan's association with disgraced chemist masks traces of deep problem

Hovering on the fringe of the backstage mêlée of bent noses and backslappers after last Saturday's epic tussle between Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler were two gents from sport's drugs squad.

Both fighters had required patching up by the medics, and the media mob awaited. It was well into the early hours before either could produce a sample for the pee bottle. Yet there was no avoiding what has become as much a required ritual in boxing as touching gloves before the final round. With good reason.

The sport is not suffering from an overdose of the Lance Armstrongs but there is no doubt it has a serious drugs problem in the United States – and now here. UK Anti-Doping (Ukad) confirm that nine British professionals have been guilty of drug violations in the past year, more than in any other sport. Although the use of prohibited substances has been prevalent in US rings for a while, the sudden onset of pill-popping among British fighters is giving the Board of Control cause for concern, especially as the drugs seminars they arrange are so poorly attended.

Scottish super-middleweight Craig Windsor was last week suspended for three years and nine months following an anti-doping rule violation involving the use of illegal steroids. The 29-year-old, who has had 12 pro fights, was banned on information provided by heavyweight Larry Olubamiwo, who is already serving a ban after admitted to over a dozen counts of using banned substances, including human growth hormone.

His whistle-blowing has earned him a 34-month remission of his own four-year ban, and he is now reapplying for his licence. "A large minority, if not a majority, of boxers are doping," he insists.

Apart from the former WBO world cruiserweight champion Enzo Maccarinelli – suspended for six months last year after testing positive for the stimulant methylhexaneamine, contained in a dietary supplement – none are exactly bill-toppers, though there are rumours of an as yet unnamed former British world title contender failing a drugs test following an overseas bout last year.

But Ukad did address the issue by criticising one marquee name: Amir Khan, whose link with Victor Conte, the mastermind behind one of sport's most infamous doping scandals, has been questioned. Conte founded Balco, a sports-nutrition centre in California, and went to prison in 2005 after pleading guilty to conspiracy to distribute banned steroids, alongside a charge of money laundering. He admitted supplying performance-enhancing drugs to sprinters Dwain Chambers, Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery.

Khan, 26, who married his American fiancée, Faryal Makhdoom, in a glittering ceremony in New York on Friday, has admitted working with Conte's strength-and-conditioning team before his bout against Mexico's Julio Diaz in Sheffield last month.

But the former world light-welterweight champion strenuously denies any drug use during that time – or in the past. "I have never taken drugs, and I never will," he told The Independent on Sunday. "It is against my religion and all my principles."

Conte, he said, was brought into his camp by his new San Francisco-based coach, Virgil Hunter. "He's introduced me to top track trainers who have helped me on my running, sprinting, breathing methods, my engine really, which is working my fitness."

Last December it emerged that Khan used supplements from Conte's company SNAC in preparing to face Carlos Molina, a fight Khan won by a 10th-round stoppage. But he says these were cleared by the US Anti-Doping Agency. Khan maintains he no longer uses any supplements supplied by Conte "because I'm sponsored by the supplement company Maximuscle".

But his decision to retain Conte as part of his training team is criticised by Ukad, who say: "We strongly advise athletes to consider the risks of working with those who have actively supported doping in the past. We believe it is preferable to be supported and train in a clean sport culture where the values of sport are promoted and upheld."

Conte is now a whistle-blower and has also worked with three other world boxing champions: Andre Berto, Nonito Donaire and Zab Judah.

It is the second time that Khan has had to defend himself against whispers of an association with drugs. When he trained with Manny Pacquiao there were unfounded rumours, fuelled by Floyd Mayweather Jnr, of illegal pills and power potions being used in the camp. "There was nothing in it," Khan insists. "The drugs rumours were upsetting but I can honestly say I never saw anything like that happening."

"I've never been approached to take anything, and like alcohol it's something I will always stay away from, in or outside the ring. Drugs can destroy your career, ruin your life, and I am determined that is not going to happen to mine."

While he is adamant he has never been involved in drugs use, Khan did face one fighter who was: Lamont Peterson tested positive for synthetic testosterone after controversially defeating him in December 2011.

"Since the Peterson issue, so many fighters have been caught," he adds. "But how many more are there out there? I'd never realised there were so many cheats in boxing. Boxers who take drugs put the lives of others at risk. I am a clean athlete and always willing to be tested anywhere, any time. I am in favour of random testing and blood testing, because we need to clean up the sport."

Boxing's rope-a-dopes

Some big fistic fish have been caught in the international drugs net. Among those who have been banned or admitted using illegal substances are former world champions Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr, Roy Jones Jnr, Shane Moseley, Antonio Tarver, Pernell Whitaker, Lamont Peterson and Erik Morales (who beat Manny Pacquiao). It is a little-known fact that the WBC world heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko missed the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta after testing positive for steroids. Brother Wladimir stepped in to take his place – and won the gold medal.

Alan Hubbard

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