“IT’S a hatchet job,” said Eddie Hearn when asked about Donald McRae’s powerful Guardian investigation into the promoter and his handling of boxers who have failed drug tests.

What Hearn makes of Amir Khan failing a test in February last year is unknown, but, given that it’s been 14 months since Khan lost to Kell Brook (a period in which the image of Conor Benn was very publicly ruined by his failure to pass two performance enhancing drug tests), Amir’s case remaining private for so long might be deemed as another proverbial slap in the face.

But the differences between the cases of Khan and Benn are stark. Both of Benn’s tests came before he was due to face Chris Eubank Jnr and the criticism levelled at both Hearn and Benn subsequently, at least from Boxing News’ point of view, was purely a consequence of how badly the situation was managed. Khan’s test occurred immediately after he suffered a thrashing at the hands of Kell Brook when he lasted into the sixth round, and, because the fight had already taken place, there was no obligation to alert anyone other than the athlete in question. BN understands that the British Boxing Board of Control were notified of Khan’s situation on Monday April 3, with the promoter of Brook-Khan, Ben Shalom, only hearing about it when the story broke the following day. Khan complied with the investigation into the findings of United Kingdom Anti-Doping (UKAD). The cases of Benn and Khan, therefore, are comparable only because both boxers were caught will illegal substances in their bodies.

That shouldn’t mean we now brush off the severity of Khan’s misdemeanor, however. The defeat to old rival Brook was hard for him to stomach but failing a test in the aftermath – and subsequently being banned for two years – is a grim way to say goodbye. Regardless of the reasons why the test was failed, it will doubtless tarnish both his legacy in British boxing and his reputation in the wider world. Another reminder, we hope, that the buck stops with the athlete who failed the test.

Almost immediately after the loss to Brook, on February 19, 2022, Khan supplied a urine sample to UKAD. On April 6, the boxer – then still mulling over his future – was informed that ostarine, a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM) that, according to UKAD, is designed to have similar effects to testosterone, had been found in the sample. On July 20, UKAD formally charged the by-now retired Khan with two anti-doping violations which were accepted by the boxer while insisting the ingestion of the banned substance was not “intentional”. Consequently, his case was referred to the National Anti-Doping Panel. After a tribunal in January this year, it was ruled on February 21 that the violations had been proved.

However, “deliberate or reckless conduct” was ruled out by UKAD. Khan accepting responsibility for the substance being in his body meant that his ban was set at two years, as opposed to four. “Strict liability means athletes are ultimately responsible for what they ingest and for the presence of any prohibited substances in a sample,” UKAD chief executive, Jane Rumble, explained. “It is important that all athletes and their support personnel, whatever level they are competing at, take their anti-doping responsibilities seriously. Not doing so risks damaging not only an athlete’s career, but also undermining public confidence in clean sport.”

“I am a retired fighter,” Khan told Sky News on Tuesday April 4. “You can see by my performance against Kell Brook, it wasn’t the best. I lost the fight. If I went in there and knocked Kell Brook out it’s different. I have never cheated in my life, I am the only one who wanted to get the testing done.

“The amount that was in my system could have come from shaking peoples’ hands. I don’t know what the drug was in my system… I would never cheat.”

It’s tempting to say it’s a familiar story. Certainly, had Khan have thrown his arms in the air and said, ‘Fair cop, I was trying to gain an advantage in a fight I was desperate win,’ he would have been the first elite boxer to admit it. It might also have been easier to forgive. For those of us who have long admired Khan, it’s a crushing disappointment.

What is undebatable, however, is that this is the biggest story to come out of the boxing world since the Benn debacle last October. Which is exactly why it’s now more important than ever before that, collectively, the sport ensures it is on the front foot when it comes to doping. What we really don’t need, for example, is an announcement that on June 3, Benn will return to action in Abu Dhabi before he has stood in front of UKAD and responded to their questions.

Any promoter who keeps working with fighters who have failed tests should expect criticism. And any member of the media who speaks out about such behaviour should be applauded. The sport’s reputation, or what’s left of it, is at stake.