“Personally, I am truly excited that this the first time in history that an athlete from any U.S. professional sport has demanded and reached out to the world anti-doping agency, to the USADA, to introduce the World Anti-Doping Code, setting both a boxing and sport precedent,” offered Schaefer.
Since negotiations between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. fell apart when neither side could agree to the cutoff date for the proposed testing, prior to fight night, the subject of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and better drug testing in boxing has been all the buzz in the industry, in the message board forums, and in chat rooms on every site on the web.
“Why now?” “Why won’t Manny test?” “Are Mayweather’s intentions pure?” These questions were asked over and over; argued ad nauseum with no real resolution.
Now the arguing is over. Change is here and an example set by two men, Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Shane Mosley- who are set to fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, NV; May 1, 2010- is the first step toward the sport of boxing recognizing its need and complying with the inevitable.
With any great change, it has to start somewhere. For many fans, the idea of change has been a bitter, controversial pill to swallow. At its center is the man who all present today credited with getting the ball rolling.
“This really is a first and I know that Floyd Mayweather really took the lead on that,” said Schaefer. “He believed strongly that it was time for boxing to introduce the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the Olympic-style drug testing to the sport of boxing. And I applaud him for that.”
Ellerbe, while acknowledging Mayweather’s role, took the time to point out that without both star fighters agreeing to move the sport forward, it may never have gotten off the ground. Already, the fire is spreading as, two days ago, The New York State Athletic Commission met to discuss changes they can make in their drug testing protocols regarding boxing.
“I am truly excited with Floyd being the face of boxing to step out front and to be a part of history,” said Ellerbe. “I would also like to commend Shane Mosley for stepping up to the plate through accepting this and also be a part of history. This truly is a historic moment, as evidenced just yesterday by the New York Athletic Commission stepping up the plate and having dialogue and that they are thinking about doing this. With Floyd being out front, this is truly going to be something that all the commissions across the United States will eventually get on board with and it will be great for the sport of boxing.”
“Today’s an important day for clean athletes everywhere,” said Tygart. “USADA has always been the protector of clean athletes. We’re their representatives and we’re honored to be a part of this of this effort to help further advance the rights of clean athletes to participate on a safe and level playing field.
“It takes a lot of courage when your sport is not doing everything possible to protect your rights,” he continued. “It takes an awful lot of courage. And we have seen in the past where athletes have spoke out and asked for things to protect their fundamental rights and they were cast aside. And I think that it is really unfortunate that athletes don’t have more of a voice when it comes to this issue. But what we have seen over the past few years is that given the independent model, athletes now know that they can come to WADA and to the USADAs of the world in countries and have a protector who says ‘Look, we’re here to protect your right. And we will fight that fight with you if you are willing to subject yourself to our testing.’”
Many people get caught up in who is cheating or might be cheating while allowing the thought of those who don’t to fall by the wayside. For Tygart, his program is about clean athletes’ right to a level playing field and to know who and what they are competing against.
“Today, this is about clean athletes and their right to compete on a level playing field,” said Tygart. “Whether you are the best boxer in the world or the second best boxer or an up-and-comer, if you’re clean, you have no reason not to be part of this type of program; in fact, you demand it. You see thousands of athletes in the U.S., and many more millions around the world, voluntarily participating in this style of program. And like Floyd Mayweather, we have had athletes come to us to protect their fundamental right to play, according to the rules of their particular sport. Why should any athlete have to be forced to endanger their health or, potentially, their life in a combat sport like boxing? Or compromise their values by being forced to cheat with PEDS because the sport has allowed cheating to take over the culture? Today is about clean athletes and I think it is as simple as that.”
Like PEDs themselves, the anti-doping movement and its processes have evolved over the years out of necessity. Tygart outlined both the history of the USADA and its growth in the sports industry.
“Looking back over the past few years, I think the U.S. has seen a dramatic transformation in anti-doping efforts in sport,” began Tygart. “First in late 2000, almost ten years ago, the U.S. Olympic community, with its athletes, courageously decided to fully externalize its anti-doping program. Couple years after that, Congress recognized the USADA as the independent anti-doping agency for Olympic and Para-Olympic sport in the U.S. This externalization and independence was significant because no longer did you have the entity promoting Olympic sport in the U.S. also attempting to police it. And this independent model has really been confirmed again and again as the gold standard in fully protecting clean athletes’ rights to a level, safe, and drug-free playing field and also the best way to preserve the inherent value of sport in this country.
“Our program has obviously evolved and hopefully will always evolve since that time and ongoing,” he continued. “But now, the world’s sports entities and governments of the world have united in this fight against doping, by agreeing to the World Anti-Doping Code. Today, more than 400 individual sport bodies from around the world and over 125 governments have signed on to follow the world anti-doping program. That program includes testing for a full menu of prohibitive substances and methods. It provides for the best protocols for the collection of samples to insure maximum comfort of athletes while also insuring the integrity of the sample collected. There is a system of accredited laboratories so that only the best in specific sport-accredited labs are analyzing samples, using the most advanced techniques and methods. And, of course, there are adequate sanctions to deter tempted cheaters and also to punish those who will trample over other competitors by cheating with these dangerous drugs.”
Starting Monday, March 22, 2010, both camps will begin random testing. Samples can collected at any time and at any place.
“The program involves random, no-advanced-notice sample collection of the athletes’ blood and urine prior to and after the fight,” Schaefer briefly explained, leaving the details to Tygart. “So that all banned substances, some of which do not show up in urine alone, are tested thoroughly with both athletes subject to the testing program, leading up to, as well as after, the fight.”
“At this point, both athletes have agreed to USADA testing protocols, including both blood and urine testing, which is unannounced, which is anywhere at any time,” reiterated Tygart. “Our staff has met with each athlete and their camps to explain the procedures and the process. And each athlete has submitted their whereabouts’ information, so they can be located for this unannounced blood and urine testing. There is no limit to the number of tests that we can complete on these boxers. Of course, those will be distributed among the boxers in a fair manner. Any positive test will be published following a thorough legal process provided under our protocols. Of course, if one or more of the boxers commits an anti-doping rule violation, WADA code penalties will be put in place.”
(Writers note: for more on the WADA code, USADA rules, regulations and the banned substance lists please visit: http://www.wada-ama.org/World-Anti-Doping-Program/Sports-and-Anti-Doping-Organizations/The-Code/)
When it was announced that Mosley and Mayweather had agreed to do the testing, there were many skeptics. A rumor floated around that the testing was a mere dog-and-pony show that would never actually happen. Another rumor floating around was that Mayweather can order additional testing for Mosley, should he desire. Tygart laid to rest those rumors and explained that because USADA is an independent organization and that is their strength and purpose, the fighters will not be in control of the process; in fact, quite the opposite.
“This is our program,” Tygart said. “They’re held to the same standard that all our Olympic athletes around the world held to, which is the WADA Code. They are in our “out-of-competition” testing pool; they are providing us their whereabouts; they are subject to the same lists of prohibitive substances that [is updated every year]. So the 2010 list of prohibitive substances and methods is what’s applying.”
So what’s the penalty for testing positive?
“The sanctions are WADA Code sanctions,” explained Tygart. “It’s a two-year penalty suspension that will be put in place and a disqualification in advance of this fight, if a boxer tests positive.”
Beyond the questions of “Why now?” or “If Manny Pacquiao hadn’t said no, would we be here now?” was the more important question of “Why blood and urine over simply the standard urine tests that boxing commissions employ now?”
“At least four potent PEDs that are not detected in urine, including HGH (Human Growth Hormone), HDT (a blood transfusion), HBOC, which is synthetic hemoglobin,” explained Tygart. “It is simply false to say that urine could detect everything that you would be concerned about. It can’t. You have to do blood. There is no other reason we would be doing blood. If we didn’t have to do blood to have an effective program, why would we do it? Makes absolutely no sense.”
One hurdle in taking this assignment was whether or not they could effectively work with someone who was accused of using PEDs, as Shane Mosley had been in the aftermath of his 2003 rematch with Oscar De La Hoya. Mosley was implicated in the BALCO scandal and had his grand jury testimony leaked to the press. This weighed heavily on Tygart and USADA but, in the end, the example Mosley was willing to make of himself and the mission of the USADA was enough to convince them the move was the right one to make.
“Obviously, we considered that thoroughly; his alleged involvement with BALCO,’ said Tygart. “We thought long and hard on it and its impact on us, whether we could be a part of this effort. We asked ourselves ‘What would clean athletes want us to do?’ And from that perspective, clean athletes in this sport, and in this event, asked us to be involved and how could we not be here for them, if that’s what they wanted? Because that’s who we are. We’re here for them. So at this point, we are comfortable running this program, even given those allegations that were out there. Let me be clear, if he [Mosley] did cheat and he does again, he will be caught and exposed in our program. Remember [Mosley] has never been under our jurisdiction until now and he has voluntarily subjected himself to our jurisdiction.”
Tygart also took the opportunity to point that boxing has never attempted to clean up its own house in regard to the Mosley matter. The decision in the fight has yet to be overturned, nor has Mosley ever faced a suspension or loss of his license in Nevada.
“You also, at the time, have to remember that professional boxing entities that had jurisdiction over him at the time did not bring discipline on those allegations or any others,” Tygart pointed out. “And we obviously firmly believe that all athletes are entitled to a full legal process, prior to being accused of cheating in their sport. Ours include independent arbitrators and decision makers outside of our own entity. Remember, if those allegations were ever proven to be true and he [Mosley] was sanctioned, he would have certainly served his time at this point and been eligible to compete just like any of the other BALCO athletes who were disciplined at the time.”
The tricky part of all this is that it is happening at the behest of two fighters, with the support of their promotional teams and camps, in conjunction with the USADA. In short, independent of the boxing world. Should a fighter come up dirty, enforcing a ban or suspension might be tricky considering the nature of the business of boxing.
“It would ultimately will come down to those sanctioning bodies to recognize the sanctions or not,” said Tygart.
With the program outlined and the fighters already in camp training, now begins the testing not only for the fighters, but for the sport as a whole. Can it look past profit, self interest, fandom, and finger-pointing and instead move forward into a new era where it holds itself up to a higher standard in order to maintain the purity of the competitive spirit?
“There is always a moment in time- it happens many times in life- that triggers certain events,” said Schaefer. “And this fight here, between Sugar Shane Mosley and Floyd Mayweather, this is a mega-event. And if this fight, this mega-event, is the trigger to introduce Olympic-style drug testing to the sport of boxing, then I think we won’t only have delivered fights to the public, but we will have helped protect athletes and make it a level playing field.”
“Sport in America, including professional boxing, has always been and should always be more than just entertainment,” said Tygart. “Sport is a vehicle by which our communities come together and our fans put hopes and dreams on our athletes’ performances. And, like it or not, our athletes are role models. Athletes inspire this country’s youth. They inspire them to be just like their sports heroes. They, frankly, inspire fans of all ages. Their performances confirm that hard work, dedication and playing by the rules will lead to success and that there are no short cuts to this success.
“Today is another watershed moment in the advancement of anti-doping efforts that’s happened over the past several years,” continued Tygart. “For the first time, you have professional athletes, in the sport of boxing, approaching us to implement an anti-doping program. And those athletes are now fully-enrolled in this program. I think similar to the courageous decisions of the Olympic athletes back in the late 90s and the U.S. Olympic committee to externalize its program, these athletes are courageous in their position and their desire to be held to the most stringent anti-doping program to protect their right to compete clean.”
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