Steve Bunce on Boxing: Drug cheats have to face the music at last


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The Independent Online

There was an innocent time when the great ring champions were happy with a thousand dollars of cocaine at the weekend or a crack pipe at the end of the day but now boxing is facing a moral crisis after a series of failed drug tests.

During the last two months, a staggering list of the great, the not so great and the unknown have failed tests in Britain and America for what are loosely and often erroneously called "performance-enhancing drugs".

Since the start of May, careers have been ruined on both sides of the ropes, fights dropped and history altered as the results have come tumbling down in an unprecedented period of revelation.

In Britain, three fighters have failed tests for a variety of ingredients ingested or injected in the days, weeks or months before their last fights. Two have so far been named and the third, a former world, British and European champion, is expected to join the shamed list soon.

The three British fighters are different in ability and culpability, and their crimes and punishments clearly expose the danger in the use of "drug cheat" as a label. They are all guilty but not all have been sucked as far into the ethical vacuum by their greed or stupidity.

The situation in America is far more severe, with the reigning world champions Antonio Tarver, Andre Berto and Lamont Peterson all failing tests after using a variety of steroids in a succession of dismal results that reads like a page from a medical brochure.

Peterson (synthetic testosterone) and Berto (nandrolone) were close to massive fights, which were both postponed, and Tarver (drostalone) had just retained a world title; he could now lose his lucrative job as a commentator on ShowTime, the American satellite channel.

Also, world championship belts have been taken from Peterson, who was due to fight Amir Khan, while Berto and Tarver are desperately trying to clear their names and get their careers and their legacies back. So far, small and rather pathetic fines and suspensions have been put in place, but it is clear that the failed tests will not, this time, be swept away and easily forgotten, which has happened far too many times during the last 20 years.

In Britain, the situation is slightly different because the heavyweight Larry Olubamiwo has come clean after a negative test in January and has made bold claims that the sport is dirty to its core.

Olubamiwo served five years in prison after making, as he puts it, the wrong choice to fund his university education: he became an armed robber so that he could get a degree in pharmaceutical chemistry.

Olubamiwo, who lost three of his 13 fights, admitted to using a sophisticated cocktail of 13 potentially deadly and banned substances. The fighter had been importing his steroids and had attracted attention back in 2007 from the American Drug Enforcement Administration and was part of a sting operation called Raw Deal.

Olubamiwo told Gabriel Montoya, the American journalist who broke the Peterson, Berto and Tarver tales, that he had made a mistake: "I got lax in my protocol otherwise I would not have been caught."

Olubamiwo's final words are eerily reminiscent of Ben Johnson and Charlie Francis in the seminal book The Dirtiest Race in History by Richard Holmes. Olubamiwo has been banned from boxing for four years.

Meanwhile, Liverpool's former British super-middleweight champion Tony Dodson has been banned for five months after a stimulant was discovered in a post-fight sample earlier this year. Dodson successfully argued that he had bought the product after finding it in a muscle magazine, displayed on the same shelves as both Boxing News and Boxing Monthly. The third boxer, who will be named shortly, is guilty of the same ignorance as Dodson. The British Boxing Board of Control has promised to look at the supplements that far too many fighters religiously take without a thought of their hidden illegal content.

Meanwhile, Olubamiwo, who was always far more eloquent than he was ferocious, could now follow the notorious Victor Conte and put his knowledge to good use in helping to detect and expose cheats.