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The WBC & VADA have just radically changed drug testing in boxing but what’s the legal fallout?

By Zach Arnold | May 15, 2016

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When we last checked in with a boxing doping scandal, VADA produced a positive test result of clenbuterol for Francisco Vargas. The California State Athletic Commission did not suspend Vargas since they weren’t the ones who administered the drug test.

The NFL Players Association came out and warned their athletes not to each too much Mexican or Chinese meat because clenbuterol could show up in their drug test results.

VADA has been trying to get their foot in the door in regards to worldwide drug testing in boxing. They managed to take a page out of the UFC/USADA playbook but on a much, much larger scale with the WBC sanctioning body. The end result is the Clean Boxing Program project, where all fighters ranked 1 through 15 for WBC titles are required to register for VADA drug testing.

The latest fighter to get busted by VADA is Alexander Povetkin, who was scheduled to fight Deontay Wilder in Moscow. Povetkin tested positive for… meldonium. This Bloody Elbow article on meldonium is a good starting point if you don’t recognize the name of the drug.

Povetkin’s camp reportedly claims that the fighter stopped taking meldonium last September. According to ESPN’s Dan Rafael, that story doesn’t hold up because Povetkin took multiple VADA drug tests in April and tested negative until April 27th when he supposedly got busted.

The WBC initially “postponed” the fight. Wilder’s camp abruptly ended and he went back home. Now it appears the fight is “off” and will not happen.

We have a lost fight. We have lost purse money for both guys, which means litigation is likely. But the fight was scheduled to take place in Russia. How will money get recovered in the Russian legal system?

The major legal ramifications of the WBC & VADA tag team

It’s highly unlikely that standard American state athletic commission drug testing would have caught what VADA caught with Alexander Povetkin. VADA has an established track record of catching certain fighters (think: Lamont Peterson) microdosing but not getting any sort of results in suspension or canceled fights. The Nevada State Athletic Commission did not want to cancel Peterson’s fight.

UFC changed the landscape by partnering with USADA and unilaterally enforcing drug suspensions. It just happened this past weekend with their mega Brazilian event. The end result has been largely positive. The UFC acts as their own sanctioning body for titles in MMA. Boxing already has sanctioning bodies. The WBC is the most famous sanctioning body of all. VADA attaching itself to the WBC for drug testing has proven to be a genius move… for now.

There are serious legal and business questions that must be asked.

First, we know that the text of the Ali Act specifies transparency for sanctioning body rankings. OK. I couldn’t answer to you how rankings are currently formulated. It’s arbitrary and at the whims of the powers-that-be. Fighters have no say in how they are ranked by the sanctioning bodies.

So the WBC decides to name 15 ranked fighters for each of their title belts. Let’s say a fighter doesn’t want to cooperate with the WBC on the VADA testing and wants nothing to do with the WBC. What statutory authority does the WBC have to punish a fighter other than publicly shaming a fighter in the press and preventing that fighter from fighting in WBC-sanctioned fights? Will the WBC rely on TV networks and business partners to pressure fighters into cooperating with the WBC or else get iced out?

Scenario two: Let’s say Fighter A is scheduled to face Fighter B and both fighters agree to VADA testing but the fight has two title belts from two different sanctioning bodies on the line, e.g. WBC & IBF titles. What happens if Fighter A tests positive? Does the WBC have the power to cancel the fight? What about the purse money involved given IBF involvement?

Second, if Fighter A tests positive for a WBC title fight in a state like Nevada, would Nevada’s athletic commission accept the result of the VADA drug test? They currently don’t. Why would state athletic commissions change drug testing enforcement policy now?

Third, when the money is large and the stakes are high, how solid will WBC’s backbone be? The Wilder/Povetkin fight was on the rocks until Wilder went back home and then the fight was “postponed.” What if Wilder had said that he wanted the fight to continue so that he could earn the purse money?

What will the TV networks backing cable & PPV fights do if they lose multiple fights? Slash boxing budgets further?

Fourth, given the new legal liability at stake with the WBC/VADA drug testing tag team, will there be momentum amongst promoters to avoid booking WBC fights due to fears of getting sued for breach of contract or other economic tort claims when their fighters test positive?

In the name of advancing an agenda for a clean sport, it appears the biggest winners will be the attorneys.

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