A major flaw in the way that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is tracked in combat sports in the U.S. was exposed after the release of a Miami New Times story on a lab allegedly providing PEDs to prominent athletes.
A series of high-profile baseball players, including the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez, were included in the records of Biogenesis, a Miami, Fla., anti-aging company that allegedly provided anabolic steroids and human growth hormone to a number of famous athletes.
Among those included in the report was boxer Yuriorkis Gamboa, a 2004 Olympic gold medalist from Cuba and the interim WBA super featherweight champion.
Several of the athletes mentioned, including Rodriguez and the Washington Nationals' Gio Gonzalez, have already denied the allegations. Gamboa couldn't be reached for comment and his promoter, hip hop star Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson of SMS Promotions, failed to return messages left with his publicist seeking comment.
Gamboa hasn't been linked to PED usage previously and clearly deserves the presumption of innocence. However, the report shows the flaws in the battle to keep PED usage out of boxing and mixed martial arts, where it can literally turn deadly.
The Major League Baseball players who have been implicated could face punishment despite not having failed a drug test. Major League Baseball released a statement in which it read, in part, "We remain fully committed to following all leads and seeking the appropriate outcomes for all those who use, purchase and are involved in the distribution of banned substances, which have no place in our game."
Gamboa, though, has no worries about action being taken against him no matter what the results of the investigation turn up. Under state athletic commission rules, a fighter can not be fined or suspended retroactively once he or she passes a drug test.
That actually happened once. Shane Mosley defeated Oscar De La Hoya in 2003 in Las Vegas and passed his drug test administered by the Nevada Athletic Commission. But then the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) scandal broke in 2004 and it turned out that Mosley used the cream and the clear, designer steroids created by BALCO founder Victor Conte that were undetectable at the time.
Because Mosley passed his test given following the fight by the Nevada commission, even his admission to the grand jury was not enough to allow Nevada to penalize him for his usage. He went on with his career as if the steroid usage never occurred. The same will be true of Gamboa and every other fighter who may be implicated.
Clearly, that's not right, but that's because of the way that boxing and mixed martial arts are regulated in the U.S. States have control over the testing and each state has different requirements. The states also don't have the funds to randomly test athletes too often, which is the way they're most likely to be caught cheating. The states' limited budgets for such testing also doesn't include funds for carbon isotope ratio tests which, for now, is the only foolproof way to prove steroid usage.
As a result, the would-be cheaters in boxing and MMA are far ahead of the game when it comes to beating the testing they face. With few exceptions, they're tested following their fights, when they know the testing will be done.
The United States Anti-Doping Agency's "Reasoned Decision" that proved cyclist Lance Armstrong was using PEDs noted in great detail that part of the way Armstrong beat so many tests despite cheating was by evading testers. He knew when the tests were coming and timed his usage accordingly so that it would clear his system before the next test.
Congress won't act until it has to, but it needs to consider a law requiring all fighters to carry a biological passport and to submit to random, unannounced testing year-round. It also needs to provide the money to fund such a program.
If it doesn't, it's only a matter of time before a fighter dies at the hands of someone who used performance-enhancing drugs.
Hopefully, steps will be taken to prevent that tragedy from occurring. Fighters, though, are going to cheat because there is such great incentive to win -- the top fighters make millions upon millions of dollars and are among the highest-paid athletes in the world -- and there is little preventing it.
Some states, like California and Nevada, try to prevent cheating. New York, though, recently allowed Erik Morales, who tested positive for the banned substance clenbuterol, to fight despite knowing of his failures.
Until there is a thorough, comprehensive nationwide system in place, fighters are going to continue to cheat and, for the most part, elude detection.
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