CONGRATULATIONS to the following: Jessica McCaskill, Sandy Ryan, Richardson Hitchins, Jose Zepeda, Joe Joyce, and Zhilei Zhang. Somehow, against all odds, those six professional boxers all managed to get through training camps ahead of fights in September without at any stage either feeling the need to take performance-enhancing drugs or getting caught with them in their system.
We know this because the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) recently celebrated these fighters’ ability to play by the rules via social media, as has become common practice of late. Why that is, I don’t quite know, but if nothing else it suggests a willingness to be open and transparent, at least with the good news anyway, and for that we should probably be grateful.
Rather confusing, though, is the wording and overall point of this behaviour. Why, for example, should a boxer ever be congratulated for simply doing something they should, in an ideal world, all be doing? Moreover, why, in this instance, does such information need to be made public if in the end it is no information at all? (The truth is, it is not the negative tests we want to know about, but instead the positive ones; the ones we feel are sometimes hidden or convoluted to the point of being incomprehensible.)
If anything, to shower the good boys and girls with praise is to shine a brighter light on the bad boys and girls, suggesting the problem with performance-enhancing drugs is so rife in boxing that those who refrain from dabbling deserve not only a reward but some sort of incentive to continue in this manner. Typically, this incentive appears on a VADA social media account and will go something like this: Congratulations to Jessica McCaskill & Sandy Ryan for successfully completing @Vada_Testing through their September 2023 bout. You will then invariably find relevant parties, such as the promoter, manager, or sanctioning bodies, tagged in this celebratory post, presumably in the hope they will spread the news to their own followers and help create an image of all being right in the world.
Otherwise, what’s the point? One would like to think these tagged-in parties can be alerted to the news in other ways – by phone, letter, or email – and that it doesn’t require being mentioned in a social media post for them to be updated. One would also like to think a social media post publicly celebrating a successful drug program isn’t the first time anyone involved in the process will have known about it.
In some ways it could be argued that to tweet like this only undermines their power. It’s almost sad, too, that they feel the need, for it only further highlights the general lack of trust in boxing when it comes to performance-enhancing drugs. After all, were that not the case, it could be kept in house, where it belongs, and we could all have complete faith in drug agencies doing their job without needing to be reminded they are doing this job via social media.
Maybe, in that respect, they are only acting as everyone else does these days: telling the world what they are doing rather than just getting on and actually doing it. Maybe even the drug agencies like the feeling of their work – their good work – receiving attention and acknowledgement, as well as the flimsy sense of validation this brings.
Whatever it is, it leaves boxing fans reacting to news of a successful drug program the same way they would upon seeing news of a compelling fight being made; that is, it triggers a happiness, or, if not that, a kind of relief. That’s perhaps reason enough for them to exist, but it’s also a damning indictment of how the sport has created in its fans such low expectations and cynicism when it comes to the matter of performance-enhancing drugs. Because it cannot be denied that there is a feeling within boxing now that money ultimately trumps everything, including authority, and that even the testing agencies are only as powerful and therefore relevant as they can afford to be.
On Wednesday (October 11), for instance, USADA (US Anti-Doping Agency) released an interesting statement revealing both that Conor McGregor had entered the USADA testing pool with a view to again fighting in the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) and that they, USADA, were no longer in an anti-doping program agreement with the UFC. Like most drug-related issues in combat sports, then, the messaging was mixed.
“We have been clear and firm with the UFC that there should be no exception given by the UFC for McGregor to fight until he has returned two negative tests and been in the pool for at least six months,” said the statement. “The rules also allow USADA to keep someone in the testing pool longer before competing based on their declarations upon entry in the pool and testing results.
“Unfortunately, we do not currently know whether the UFC will ultimately honour the six-month or longer requirement because, as of January 1, 2024, USADA will no longer be involved with the UFC Anti-Doping Program.”
It gets worse: “The relationship between USADA and UFC became untenable given the statements made by UFC leaders and others questioning USADA’s principled stance that McGregor not be allowed to fight without being in the testing pool for at least six months.
“One UFC commentator echoed this, recently declaring that USADA should not oversee the UFC program since we held firm to the six-month rule involving McGregor, and since we do not allow fighters without an approved medical basis to use performance-enhancing drugs like experimental, unapproved peptides or testosterone for healing or injuries simply to get back in the Octagon.
“Fighters’ long-term health and safety – in addition to a fair and level playing field – are more important to USADA than short-term profits at the expense of clean athletes.”
Now, regardless of the all-round efficiency of these agencies, that’s the sort of statement and information you want to be seeing from them. At the very least it succeeds in offering the impression of a stance and some backbone. At the very least it suggests principles still matter, even in a sport in which cash rules everything and every effort to clean up the sport is no more than a token gesture; something people want to be seen to be doing rather than something they actually want to do. At the very least it reads like something a grown-up, or someone in a position of authority, would write.
For that they deserve credit. Perhaps even congratulations.