THE issue of performance-enhancing drugs in boxing was again the biggest story of last week when it was confirmed Alycia Baumgardner had failed a test. It was conducted on July 12 by Drug Free Sport, an American agency used regularly by Matchroom Boxing, three days before she defeated Christina Linardatou on points in Michigan.

A boxer fighting days after posting a positive test is always troubling. We’re told that certain testing agencies don’t have the infrastructure in place to return the results of a test within three days. When one considers the worst possible consequence of a boxing match, that’s far from ideal.

Frank Warren alleged last week that Drug Free Sport only shares test results with promoters. Therefore, the onus is on the promoter to take the next step, if one is required. If true, that should be deemed a concern for obvious reasons.

Hearn, in turn, reacted angrily to Warren’s claims, which also included suggestions that Drug Free Sport’s testing procedure is not as extensive as other agencies, such as VADA and UKAD.

“I don’t know why he [Warren] is criticising someone who is paying for additional testing, and criticising that they only test for certain things. We’re talking about a positive adverse finding,” Hearn told Boxing Social. “So they [Drug Free Sport] must be doing an okay job.”

In May, when asked by Boxing News why he uses Drug Free Sport, Hearn said: “[They employ] the same system as VADA, [and use] the same laboratories as VADA. [Drug Free Sport is] cheaper. It enables us to [test] more fights for the money.”

News of Baumgardner, the world super-featherweight champion, testing positive for mesterolone and methenolone acetate metabolites was confirmed by Matchroom on August 16. That was 10 days after it was announced by Matchroom that Dillian Whyte had failed a test in the build-up to his rematch with Anthony Joshua, and on the same day UKAD launched an appeal against the National Anti-Doping Panel’s (NADP) recent ruling on Conor Benn, a Matchroom-promoted boxer. All three are claiming innocence.

Benn, of course, failed two tests in the build-up to the aborted Chris Eubank Jnr bout last year, but his UKAD provisional suspension was lifted last month because, as Boxing News reported on August 3, the tests were carried out by VADA and therefore did not fall under the jurisdiction of UKAD. The NADP’s ruling was troubling – not because Benn’s provisional suspension was lifted, but because it was lifted without any explanation for the failed tests being heard. If UKAD, and in turn the British Boxing Board of Control, can’t use the results of a VADA test to investigate the possibility that a boxer is using drugs to cheat, then we have a problem even worse than we have long presumed. Simply, if the original NAPD ruling is upheld and that’s the end of the matter, there seems little point in VADA testing any athlete in this country again.

Hearn remains defiant, saying that Benn will clear his name for a third time. The truth is, he hasn’t satisfactorily cleared it once. The World Boxing Council’s investigation that took place last year, and could only consider the first test, concluded that a “highly elevated consumption of eggs” was a “reasonable explanation” for failing a test only days before Benn stated that consuming lots of eggs was never an explanation his team put forward. And the recent noise about Benn being “cleared” by UKAD was simply untrue. Though it’s believed they have received Team Benn’s explanation for failing two tests more than a month apart, UKAD are yet to even reach the point of being able to consider it, at least from a legal standpoint. To be clear, this is a criticism of the system and its loopholes, not Benn.

Hearn has stated that Benn, who has secured a licence in a different territory, might still fight in September before that appeal has run its course. The promoter’s loyalty to Benn is understood. He believes Benn is innocent, and one might argue that promoting a boxer’s innocence is all part of a boxing promoter’s job.

Eddie Hearn (Getty Images)

Hearn’s stance on Whyte and Baumgardner has not been as bullish. He is keen, and rightly so, that both boxers be given the chance to explain to authorities why tests were failed. Whyte has long been a free agent and is not signed to Matchroom, and Baumgardner was, according to Hearn, in negotiations about a contract extension at the time of the failed test.

Hearn did not deny the boxer had turned down a new contract, however. “Going into the last fight those [contract extension] conversations were ongoing,” he told BN. “She’s got another fight with Matchroom as well and then matching rights beyond that as well, so we expect that relationship to last for a long time. Hopefully, she can find her way back to the ring ASAP.”

The positive test and how it is dealt with is the important issue. The fact it generated so much attention, and Hearn was made to answer so many questions about it, highlights the growing unrest that the policing of failed tests is inconsistent at best.

Hearn has faced criticism in recent years for his attitude towards PEDs. Though a public advocate for a clean sport, a sensationalist report regarding the number of boxers he has promoted in recent years that have failed tests raised some eyebrows when it was published last year. An example was the Joshua-Andy Ruiz II card in Saudi Arabia in December 2019. That promotion included four boxers (Whyte, Alexander Povetkin, Mariusz Wach and Eric Molina) who had failed tests in the past. The event came six months after Hearn promised to never work with Jarrell Miller after the American was caught with PEDs in his system ahead of a projected bout with Joshua.

It is correct to point out, however, that any promoter is free to promote any boxer who has a licence to box. Though the blue-sky thinking might be that drug use would be eradicated overnight if every promoter and broadcaster refused to work with anyone who failed a test, irrespective of the reasons why, the reality is quite the opposite. Hearn did not stage any fights involving boxers who were unlicensed to do so in the territories in which the events were staged. And to accuse only Hearn of welcoming old drug offenders back to boxing would be grossly unfair. He is far from the only one. He’s also one of the few who consistently puts himself front and centre to answer questions about it.

So, why is Hearn being made to answer more than any other promoter about PEDs? There are several reasons. One is the ongoing Benn case and the mismanagement of it at the start. For as long as that drags on, Hearn will be associated with it. So, when he’s being posed questions about Whyte or Baumgardner, he’s also being asked about Benn. There will naturally be questions about a new drug-testing agency, too. Boxing has not been helped by multiple sanctioning bodies, champions and commissions. It seems unlikely that another drug-testing agency will ease the congestion.

Other cases are worth referencing when attempting to understand further.

In July 2019, Matchroom promoted a contest between Whyte and Oscar Rivas, one month after learning the British heavyweight had failed a test. Whyte was cleared to fight by the NADP, and UKAD charges were later dropped. Five months later, after Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr refused to take a random VADA test ahead of his bout with Daniel Jacobs and was suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Hearn took that fight from Las Vegas to Phoenix, where Chavez was granted a licence.

No guidelines were bent or broken – they merely change from state to state, from sanctioning body to sanctioning body, from commission to commission, from drug testing agency to drug testing agency.

When the lines between right and wrong are blurred, it should be no surprise that those lines are crossed so frequently. The need for one set of rules has never been greater.