THE BIG IS­SUE

Billy Joe Saun­ders won’t be ght­ing this week­end and is no longer a world cham­pion. El­liot Worsell, with help from Do­minic In­gle and Robert Smith, in­ves­ti­gates

Boxing News - - Contents -

The ins and outs Billy Joe Saun­ders, ox­ilofrine and VADA

IIN com­pe­ti­tion, Billy Joe Saun­ders has won 26 con­sec­u­tive pro­fes­sional fights, reigned as WBO world mid­dleweight cham­pion since 2015, and was last seen pro­duc­ing one of the finest per­for­mances of the year – that year be­ing 2017 – against David Lemieux in Canada.

Out of com­pe­ti­tion, though, it’s a dif­fer­ent story. Bouts of ill-dis­ci­pline were seem­ingly ironed out when hook­ing up with trainer Do­minic In­gle in Sh­effield, yet Saun­ders still har­bours a boy­ish, trou­ble­mak­ing streak that has meant his ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties con­tinue to over­shadow the good work he pro­duces in gloves.

Re­cent so­cial me­dia videos, for in­stance, landed him in hot wa­ter (to the tune of a £100,000 fine) with the Bri­tish Box­ing Board of Con­trol (BBBOFC), while a sched­uled WBO ti­tle de­fence against

Demetrius An­drade, set for Satur­day (Oc­to­ber 20) in Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, is off after the Mas­sachusetts State Ath­letic Com­mis­sion’s (MSAC) de­nied him a li­cence.

Since then, ac­cord­ing to the WBO, Saun­ders has “vol­un­tar­ily re­lin­quished” his mid­dleweight belt, mean­ing An­drade, the WBO’S num­ber one con­tender, now has the chance to claim it with a win against un­her­alded Namib­ian Wal­ter Kau­ton­dokwa this week­end [see page 22].

So, where did it all go wrong? The cause of Saun­ders’ mis­ery can be traced back to a failed VADA (Vol­un­tary Anti-dop­ing As­so­ci­a­tion) drug test on Au­gust 30 in Sh­effield that re­turned “ad­verse an­a­lyt­i­cal find­ings”. Specif­i­cally, ox­ilofrine, a stim­u­lant, was de­tected in the 29-year-old’s sys­tem.

The sub­se­quent con­fu­sion, mean­while, cen­tred on this key point: the stim­u­lant in ques­tion, chem­i­cally linked to asthma med­i­ca­tion ephedrine, was re­vealed to only be banned un­der the World Anti-dop­ing As­so­ci­a­tion’s (WADA) in-com­pe­ti­tion code, which meant Saun­ders, who in­gested the sub­stance while out of com­pe­ti­tion, would not have failed a test con­ducted by UK An­ti­dop­ing (UKAD), nor had he breached the rules of the BBBOFC.

“He hasn’t failed any drug test with us,” Robert Smith, Gen­eral Sec­re­tary of the Bri­tish Box­ing Board of Con­trol, con­firmed to Box­ing News on Thurs­day (Oc­to­ber 11). “It’s a dif­fer­ent cri­te­ria. It’s very frus­trat­ing and it shouldn’t be the case. There’s ob­vi­ously a con­flict be­tween the two sets of rules. VADA is not a recog­nised or­gan­i­sa­tion within WADA (World Anti-dop­ing As­so­ci­a­tion) and we deal with UKAD who are af­fil­i­ated with WADA and run by their rules. VADA do not. We need some sort of clar­i­fi­ca­tion with re­gards to our sport and how it’s af­fected.”

In what es­sen­tially seems a case of too many cooks spoil­ing the broth, or at least too many cooks hav­ing con­flict­ing ideas about how the broth should be cooked, Billy Joe Saun­ders has found him­self a vic­tim of mis­un­der­stand­ing and mixed mes­sages.

To his detri­ment, and at the cost of his ti­tle and a pay­day, Saun­ders has dis­cov­ered in-com­pe­ti­tion means one thing in Bri­tain, a coun­try in which box­ing is reg­u­lated by the BBBC and UKAD, and another thing to VADA, the pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tion brought in to ran­domly test Saun­ders and An­drade ahead of their pro­posed Oc­to­ber 20 bout.

“It’s dis­ap­point­ing there are two sets of lists where you can have one prod­uct out-of-com­pe­ti­tion and one prod­uct in-com­pe­ti­tion,” said Smith. “That seems a ridicu­lous sce­nario.

“What is in-com­pe­ti­tion and what is out-of-com­pe­ti­tion? With re­gards to us, in-com­pe­ti­tion means the evening of the bout. Every­thing else is out-of­com­pe­ti­tion. Theirs is ob­vi­ously a longer pe­riod of time and that’s where dis­pute arises and that’s what needs to be dealt with as soon as pos­si­ble. I am very frus­trated. How­ever, I fully re­spect and can un­der­stand Mas­sachusetts’ de­ci­sion.”

Saun­ders’ head coach, Do­minic In­gle, sang from a sim­i­lar hymn sheet when he spoke to Box­ing News on Wed­nes­day (Oc­to­ber 10), the day his fighter left train­ing camp in Toronto to re­turn to Eng­land, but found the de­ci­sion of the com­mis­sion tougher to ac­cept.

“With VADA,” he said, “all the banned prod­ucts are listed and some­where in the fine print is the in-com­pe­ti­tion pe­riod which is where they start the test­ing 10 or 12 weeks out. In-com­pe­ti­tion for ev­ery­body, for 99.9 per cent of the world, is the day of com­pe­ti­tion. It’s only VADA who have this rule when you sign the con­tract.

“Now, imag­ine you’re in a foot­ball com­pe­ti­tion and you’re do­ing a four-day tour­na­ment and play­ing a match ev­ery day. You’re in-com­pe­ti­tion then. ³

‘AN­DRADE IS GO­ING TO BE FIGHT­ING FOR A VA­CANT TI­TLE AGAINST A KID WHO’S C**P. THE TI­TLE HAS BEEN PINCHED’

“Three days be­fore that, though, would you say you’re in-com­pe­ti­tion? Are you be­ing com­pet­i­tive with any­body?”

Your an­swer to this ques­tion will ul­ti­mately de­ter­mine whether you fall on the side of Saun­ders, the BBBC and UKAD, or VADA and the Mas­sachusetts State Ath­letic Com­mis­sion.

Cer­tainly, there’s an ar­gu­ment to be made that Saun­ders, in com­ply­ing with the in-com­pe­ti­tion and out-of­com­pe­ti­tion reg­u­la­tions out­lined by UKAD, has done noth­ing wrong, or at least noth­ing out of the or­di­nary. Yet, equally, the no­tion that a train­ing camp – the eight, 10 or 12 weeks pre­ced­ing a fight – has no bear­ing on a boxer’s even­tual per­for­mance is a dif­fi­cult one to grasp.

“When you think about it, it’s a nat­u­ral de­ci­sion by the com­mis­sion,” Ed­die Hearn, An­drade’s pro­moter, told IFL TV. “What is the point in sign­ing up for drug-test­ing if, when you fail, ev­ery­one just goes ‘don’t worry about it, just let him fight’? The ar­gu­ment that it’s all right with UKAD is to­tally ir­rel­e­vant. You signed up for drug-test­ing with VADA, the best test­ing agency, in my opin­ion, in the sport. If UKAD thinks in-com­pe­ti­tion should just mean the night of the fight, you are telling me a fighter should be al­lowed to take ox­ilofrine and ephedrine to cut weight and get faster and stronger and po­ten­tially do more to an op­po­nent on the night.

“The Bri­tish Box­ing Board needs to speak to UKAD, be­cause VADA’S rules are quite sim­ple. In-com­pe­ti­tion is 365 (days per year). You’re a fighter. You can’t take per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drugs in camp, so you can be more dan­ger­ous in the ring. It’s out­ra­geous.” Here’s another grey area to un­pack: VADA, the pri­vate or­gan­i­sa­tion run by Dr. Mar­garet Good­man, have their own set of in and out-of-com­pe­ti­tion rules, as well as their own test­ing pro­ce­dures (the best in the business, given their track record), but are pow­er­less to act upon their find­ings. In lay­man’s terms, then, they snitch, spread the word and skedad­dle. Nat­u­rally, this leaves room for ar­gu­ments, counter ar­gu­ments, and ne­go­ti­a­tion.

“We ei­ther go with one set of rules or not, and WADA is the World Anti-dop­ing Agency,” said Robert Smith. “VADA has ob­vi­ously been set up and I have full re­spect for Mar­garet Good­man. She does a great job. But once they’ve tested they walk away and some­one else has to deal with the dis­ci­plinary mat­ter.”

“If you imag­ine a pie chart, 99 per cent of that pie chart is WADA and one per cent is VADA,” added In­gle. “So why do you use VADA? Well, you use VADA be­cause USADA [United States An­ti­dop­ing As­so­ci­a­tion] are only used in cer­tain places or at cer­tain times or by cer­tain peo­ple. That’s why VADA are used. But it’s got to be agreed be­tween you.

“If you make a fighter come to Eng­land, there’s not an op­tion. You do UKAD and you do the tests ac­cord­ing to WADA or VADA rules. You have to do the tests de­ter­mined by the coun­try you’re com­pet­ing in – and VADA is some­times also agreed by both par­ties.

“When Kell Brook [another of In­gle’s fight­ers] fought Er­rol Spence [in Sh­effield], they were both tested by USADA, UKAD and VADA. But, when Kell Brook boxed Shawn Porter [in Car­son, Cal­i­for­nia], the com­mis­sion test­ing wasn’t done by USADA or VADA. The com­mis­sion just sent off the tests to a com­pany and then they get the results and de­cide what they’re go­ing to do.”

Fol­low­ing another Brook fight, a pun­ish­ing one against Gen­nady Golovkin in Septem­ber 2016, the Sh­effield fighter was cor­nered by testers from both UKAD and VADA, when the greater im­me­di­ate need was for him to go to hos­pi­tal and repair a badly dam­aged face.

“We had to take Kell Brook to hos­pi­tal, but VADA in­sisted he did his test,” ex­plained In­gle. “I told Robert Smith and

‘YOU CAN’T TAKE DRUGS IN CAMP SO YOU CAN BE MORE DAN­GER­OUS IN THE RING’

he said he wasn’t in­ter­ested in VADA. He said so long as Kell did his test­ing with UKAD he could go and be tended to. VADA fol­lowed him any­way and in­sisted he did the test.”

“We’re only in­ter­ested in UKAD,” Smith con­firmed to BN. “That’s who we’re signed up with. We’re not signed up to VADA. It’s a vol­un­tary agency.”

With all the talk of in and out-of­com­pe­ti­tion test­ing, it’s easy to lose sight of what it ac­tu­ally was VADA de­tected in Billy Joe Saun­ders’ Au­gust 30 urine sam­ple. The drug, ox­ilofrine, a sub­stance re­port­edly found in a nasal spray, is a stim­u­lant that was de­vel­oped to treat hy­poten­sion (low blood pres­sure). To fol­low­ers of athletics, how­ever, ox­ilofrine is bet­ter known as the am­phet­a­mine that re­sulted in sus­pen­sions for former sprint cham­pi­ons Tyson Gay and Asafa Pow­ell in 2013.

“He was flagged for traces of ox­ilofrine, which, out of com­pe­ti­tion, is per­fectly le­gal to use [ac­cord­ing to UKAD]” In­gle re­it­er­ated. “The results came back from VADA and said he had ephedrine in his sys­tem, but un­der what they call a thresh­old level. A thresh­old level is nor­mally ap­plied to in-com­pe­ti­tion. So, you could have loads of sub­stances in your sys­tem, but if they’re un­der the cut­off point, you can’t get banned.

“The rea­son for hav­ing a thresh­old is be­cause there’s a chance that a prod­uct could be in an ath­lete’s sys­tem with­out their knowl­edge. It could be, say, con­tam­i­na­tion. You can have traces, but you’ve got to go over to get banned.

“They’ve found traces of ephedrine in his sys­tem but it’s un­der the thresh­old, so VADA are not go­ing to charge him for it.

“Ox­ilofrine is a me­tab­o­lite of ephedrine. If you take ephedrine, you’re go­ing to get ox­ilofrine in your sys­tem be­cause that’s what it breaks down into. It’s a by-prod­uct of the ephedrine. There’s not a thresh­old for ox­ilofrine.

“It ac­tu­ally says on the VADA re­port form: ephedrine at a cer­tain level and ox­ilofrine present pos­si­bly due to the ephedrine.”

In­gle em­pha­sised the fact he al­ways checks a web­site called Global Drug Ref­er­ence On­line [www.glob­al­dro.com, which is set up by WADA] to find out whether a prod­uct can be taken or not – in-com­pe­ti­tion or out-of-com­pe­ti­tion. “We checked it,” said In­gle, “and the nasal drops he used that con­tained ephedrine were safe to take.”

More­over, In­gle was quick to re­veal Saun­ders, since fail­ing a VADA test on Au­gust 30, had com­pleted two sub­se­quent VADA tests, as well as one UKAD test, and none of them re­ported ad­verse find­ings. Not only that, when tak­ing these tests, Saun­ders was obliv­i­ous to the fact he’d failed a VADA test in Au­gust.

“[Demetrius] An­drade’s now go­ing to be fight­ing for a va­cant ti­tle against some kid who’s c**p,” said In­gle. “In a round­about way, they’ve pinched the ti­tle off Billy Joe Saun­ders.

“What’s hap­pened is there has been so much pres­sure put on this Mas­sachusetts board and they have de­nied him his li­cense. It’s not just the drugs, it’s the video stuff as well. Mas­sachusetts could have quite eas­ily said, ‘We un­der­stand he has a pri­vate con­tract for test­ing and we’re go­ing to bounce it back to the pro­moter and ask them: do you want to still put this fight on be­cause you have a pri­vate con­tract be­tween you and the fighter?’

“Mas­sachusetts could have said, ‘We’re go­ing to fol­low what the Bri­tish Box­ing Board of Con­trol have done. He’s from Eng­land and that’s where he ‘failed’ a test. They’ve got no prob­lem with that so there­fore he should be free to fight.’

“If that’s an is­sue for the pro­moter and the other boxer, that’s dif­fer­ent. But I don’t think it says in the con­tracts they agreed to a sit­u­a­tion whereby if ei­ther fighter fails a drug test the fight is off or they will be fined. They just agreed to do VADA test­ing.”

Three months ago, Billy Joe Saun­ders was a world cham­pion with a clean record. Now, he’s mid­dleweight con­tender who, thanks to the con­vo­luted na­ture of his sport, and de­pend­ing on who you ask, is stuck some­where be­tween a ‘drug cheat’ and a hard-doneby pariah whose big­gest crime was sim­ply fol­low­ing the wrong set of rules.

“If there had been any­thing un­der­hand with Billy Joe Saun­ders, the Bri­tish Box­ing Board of Con­trol would have banned him,” In­gle con­cluded. “No­body gets away with­out a ban if they’ve been found tak­ing drugs and Billy Joe Saun­ders is free to box.”

Free to box, yes. Just not in Bos­ton this week­end, and not as WBO mid­dleweight cham­pion.

Photo: AC­TION IM­AGES/ AN­DREW BOYERS

WATCH­ING CARE­FULLY: In­gle checks what sub­stances are il­le­gal, and which are not

Photo: MATT HEASLEY/HO­GAN PHO­TOS/GOLDEN BOY

GOLDEN CHANCE: An­drade [right] will now be a mas­sive favourite to win the WBO ti­tle

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