Laughably, USADA “sanctions” Erik Morales months after he fights despite two failed drug tests

The United States Anti-Doping Agency released a stern-sounding statement on Friday announcing that it had sanctioned boxer Erik Morales for two years as a result of two positive tests for clenbuterol, a banned performance-enhancing substance.

USADA pointed out that Morales tested positive on both Oct. 3 and Oct. 10, as he was training for an Oct. 20 match in Brooklyn, N.Y., with Danny Garcia.

In its release, USADA noted that it is occasionally hired by fighters and/or promoters to conduct testing because the sport does not have any regular testing program.

Professional boxing does not have a universally-implemented, WADA-accredited anti-doping program, and as a result of the lack of effective testing, many professional boxers and event organizers have contracted with USADA to conduct comprehensive anti-doping programs prior to and during their fights.

This, though, is what is laughable: Morales fought Garcia in that Oct. 20 show. USADA knew that Morales had twice tested positive. So did Golden Boy Promotions, which promoted the show. So did the New York State Athletic Commission, which sanctioned it. And so did Showtime, which broadcast it.

None did a thing about it.

When news of the positive tests broke, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer told Yahoo! Sports he had opted to put the decision in the hands of the New York commission. As best as can be determined, the commission never did anything. However, commission chairwoman Melvina Lathan failed to return messages at the time of the incident and has never adequately explained the issue to a public that deserves to know how a fighter can fail two drug tests before an event and still be permitted to fight.

Not even USADA acted to prevent Morales from fighting.

When Yahoo! Sports contacted USADA executive director Travis Tygart for comment, at first he failed to return calls. But then in January, after USADA had announced a disciplinary process against Morales had begun, Tygart returned an email to Yahoo! Sports and said he had been traveling. He told a reporter to contact USADA publicist Annie Skinner and that Skinner would coordinate an interview with him. Skinner simply returned an email with generalities about how USADA handles a case, but significantly, never arranged for Tygart to return the phone call.

On Oct. 19, a day before the fight, a column on Yahoo! Sports pushed for Morales to be yanked from the fight. It noted that even though Morales was claiming he tested positive as a result of eating tainted meat in Mexico, a similar incident occurred to American swimmer Jessica Hardy and that Hardy lost a chance to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing as a result.

... To allow him to fight after failing a test can't be tolerated. He needs to be pulled from the card.

To do otherwise would be to ignore the risks and to put money and television ratings over the health and safety of the athletes.

Nobody stood up, though, and Morales was allowed to fight. After he was stopped by Garcia, Morales said he would take a farewell bout in his native Mexico and then retire.

That's what made Friday's USADA release so laughable, when it announced its penalty against Morales. Morales will fight in Mexico if he still wants to fight, because that is out of USADA's jurisdiction. And he'll in essence not only suffer no penalty, he earned his fulll purse.

USADA announced today that Erik Morales of San Ysidro, California, an athlete in the sport of professional boxing, has tested positive for a prohibited substance and has received a two-year sanction as a result of his violation.

Morales, 36, tested positive for Clenbuterol, in two separate urine samples collected out-of-competition on October 3, 2012 and October 10, 2012 in Mexico. Clenbuterol is a prohibited Anabolic Agent under the USADA Protocol for Olympic and Paralympic Movement Testing, which has adopted the World Anti-Doping Code (“Code”) and the World Anti-Doping Agency Prohibited List. Both samples were collected as part of an anti-doping testing program conducted by USADA for a professional boxing match that took place on October 20, 2012, in Brooklyn, New York.

Later in the release, USADA tried to vindicate itself.

Morales’ contractual agreement for this anti-doping testing program included his acknowledgement that USADA would be the results management authority to adjudicate any adverse analytical findings in accordance with the rules. In addition, the appropriate boxing commission was notified prior to the fight, and within 48 hours of USADA receiving the information, that there was a potential anti-doping rule violation.

Morales has been offered the opportunity to participate in the full, fair legal process under the rules, but has indicated to USADA that he would not like to move forward with the independent arbitration process, and as a result, has received a two-year period of ineligibility and the disqualification of all competitive results obtained subsequent to October 3, 2012, including the forfeiture of any medals, points and prizes.

Yet, never did anyone from USADA publicly complain that Morales was permitted to fight. Only media complained and it was a very few media at that.

There is a desperate need for a strong anti-doping policy in combat sports. Unlike a sport like cycling, juiced up athletes are a potentially lethal threat to their opponents.

Very few, though, seem to take the threat seriously, and probably won't until a fighter is seriously injured or worse.

Then, there will be all of this self-righteous howling about the drug problem.

The Morales case was an epic failure and all involved earned a grade a F-minus for their handling of it. Fortunately, only Morales' pride was hurt.

We may not be so lucky next time.

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