The pen is mightier than the sordid

Boxing, like every sporting undertaking, has developed a glossary of terms that for many seem like a foreign language. Evolving through a century and half of the gloved era, the words can feel like a device for exclusion to those wishing to penetrate the niche. Some of the vernacular used by those of us confined to boxing’s obtuse sanatorium are timeless, worn like old slippers, others are necessary and pertinent, a few newly minted and, unfortunately, there is a stocked quiver of the entirely disingenuous.

By way of example, even boxing’s simplest premise is layered with nuance; a jab, isn’t always a jab. Sometimes a jab is a heavy jab, a straight jab, a lead hand, a pitter-patter jab, a range finder, piston-like or ram rod? Away from the technicalities that help fight fans discriminate between the merits of Larry and Audley, within the linguistically creative departments of promotion and regulation, the use of language becomes ever more political in style. Designed to distract the audience, the questioner and cloak the issue in hand beneath a cavalcade of obfuscation.

This week’s revelation that Dillian Whyte had failed a pre-fight test for Performance Enhancing Drugs brought the importance of words, and their use in the deception and distraction of the unwitting, into sharper focus. An outcome not without irony given Whyte’s fight with Oscar Rivas, which took place three days after the first notification of his failed test, was for an Interim belt to secure a mandatory shot against a fighter likely to be installed as a Franchise champion and, therefore, be relieved of the obligation to fight Whyte.

Are you keeping up? Scream if you want to go faster.

High profile heavyweights failing tests like the one Whyte has, irrespective of the curated language used to define the faux pas, barely raise an eyebrow these days. Whyte joins Jarrell Miller, Alexander Povetkin, Tyson Fury, Hughie Fury, Tony Thompson and Luis Ortiz in failing tests in recent memory. The extent of their respective transgressions varies and there remains much to learn about the method, advantage gained and level of consent in Whyte’s use of substances too. Nevertheless, the frequency of revelations like is such that the long hand of Performance Enhancing Drugs has become an irritatingly fulsome description already. Too time consuming given the frequency the term now enters the conversation it would seem. To overcome this, for those vested parties trapped in the public relations panic room of a failed test, who prefer to talk quickly or not at all, the acronym ‘PEDs’ has now been adopted into the boxing lexicon. A minute shift, but one which takes the word ‘drugs’ out of ear shot, despite informed members of the audience being entirely aware of what the D stands for, and in doing so begins the process of deflating the fact that the fighter has sought to cheat.

The furore that used to meet such headlines has given way to boxing’s greatest, but quietest enemy; apathy. With each failed test there grows a sense among fight followers that “they’re all doing it”. A dangerous Rubicon those with the power to insist on change, regardless of the short-term casualties, must not let boxing slip across.

The assumption of guilt denigrates those who box clean and simultaneously encourages fighters tempted by this widely held opinion to succumb to the use of enhancements and seek parity with those they presume to be cheating and are in pursuit of. It is a phenomenon that, in the clarity of the post-Armstrong confessions, suffocated elite cycling.  Riders convinced themselves of their moral innocence despite their own use of PEDs on the basis they were seeking merely to keep up with those already ‘juicing’.

Now bobbing on the choppy waters of another failed test, sorry ‘Adverse finding in Sample A’, and, while unrelated, the deaths of two fighters, Maxim Dadashev and Hugo Santillan added to the swell, the boxing establishment must surely now act? Coordinate. Explain. Punish. Take control?

As in all unwelcome occurrences, optimists seek opportunity in the event, they remark on the possibility of redemption and renewal. Of seizing the initiative. Striving for change. Mobilising people, money and resources behind a crusade toward a cleaner sport. Devotees of boxing, for all her myriads flaws, struggle to adopt such a ‘Pollyanna’ outlook. Improved testing, transparency of process and the adoption of a universal menu of sanctions and standards by all global and regional bodies, these are the steps required, but how do we create the imperative? How do we impose the consistency?

Performing Enhancing Drugs will always be present in sport and in boxing perhaps more so than other endeavours. In any community of people there will always be those willing to risk exclusion to achieve success and remuneration in order to stay one step ahead or to leap forward from their current position.  The risks of such behaviour in boxing, where two trained professionals try to hit, hurt and knockout each other, requires little explanation.

Boxing needs to catch more of the cheats and to insist they don’t prosper, that their crime, and crime is surely what it is in such an inherently dangerous sport, is punished publicly, clearly and in such a way as to deter impressionable fighters swimming in their wake.

Fans can help impose this reality using the power of their wallets, whilst promoters and sanctioning bodies, by performing the necessary due diligence before shows take place, can positively impact progress too. However, to me the greatest burden in the pursuit of change lays with the journalists at work in the field. They need to demonstrate courage and tenacity to follow the breadcrumb trail in every failed test and to chase the story beyond the individual. Examine and investigate the pathway of information; who knew what, in order to pose difficult questions to boxing’s powerbrokers.

Because in the absence of transparency, with the apparent loopholes in the protocols still in play, with many more parties implicated and complicit to bad practice if not the PED epidemic by the Dillian Whyte case, fan’s faith recedes and danger grows.

Sadly, this type of journalism isn’t common place. There is a greater dependence on promoters by the media than ever there was on the media from promoters a generation ago. Social media has liberated all from the limitations of conventional outlets but the advent of these new media platforms has encouraged ‘reporting’ that is entirely too grateful for the access they receive and in truth, neutered them.

Challenging questions can now lead to ‘locked doors’, but someone, somewhere has to be courageous enough to risk kicking a few down.

Because if PEDs continued unchecked and those in power are permitted to disguise the truth beneath ambiguous terminology then we may yet hear more use of the one word which remains untouched by the passage of time and the revolution in media coverage.

Death.


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