Golden Boy Promotions CEO Richard Schaefer has been at the forefront of testing to prevent usage of performance-enhancing drugs in boxing.
He has a chance to make a significant statement by not allowing Erik Morales to fight Danny Garcia Saturday for the WBA/WBC super lightweight titles, despite the high stakes, in what is supposed to be the main event of a quadruple header on Showtime at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
By agreement between the fighters and with the blessing of Golden Boy, Morales and Garcia have been tested throughout training camp by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. On Wednesday, USADA made Golden Boy aware that the Morales "A" sample was positive for clenbuterol.
Clenbuterol is an anabolic agent which assists in weight loss and can help increase lean muscle mass. It can also cause the heart to race.
Morales claims to have gotten the clenbuterol from eating contaminated meat. Several athletes have eaten contaminated meat and later tested positive for clenbuterol. Five members of the Mexican soccer team did, but appealed their suspension to the World Anti-Doping Agency and were cleared last year.
However, WADA turned down a similar appeal from 2010 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador and he was stripped of the title.
No promoter has been hit harder by positive tests this year than Golden Boy; a number of its fighters have agreed to comprehensive random testing. Lamont Peterson was discovered to have used synthetic testosterone during random tests conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA). As a result, his May bout with Amir Khan, as well as the entire card, was canceled.
Andre Berto tested positive for norandrosterone and he was yanked from a June card against Victor Ortiz. Berto claimed innocence, and in August the California State Athletic Commission licensed him, finding his positive test was likely the result of a contaminated substance.
Berto will fight Robert Guerrero next month, and both fighters have agreed to random blood and urine testing done by USADA, Schaefer said.
Schaefer should be commended for encouraging his fighters to be tested despite knowing the risk could be a high-priced show cancellation.
He said Friday that "it's out of my hands" and was allowing the matter to be handled by the New York State Athletic Commission, in consultation with USADA officials.
Neither Melvina Lathan, the New York commission's chairwoman, or USADA head Travis Tygart returned messages.
Morales and Garcia weighed in as scheduled on Friday, and indications are that the fight will go on. Morales told the New York Daily News he was told by a USADA official that the fight was a go.
"You are not guilty and the [New York State Athletic Commission] has already accepted the fight, so the fight is on,'" Morales said the USADA official told him. "I've been facing great fighters like [Manny] Pacquiao and [Marco Antonio] Barrera, and I never failed a drug test. I'm clean. I asked the [USADA] guy, 'Do you think this is related to food or something?' Until now, we don't know, but everything shows it should be food."
Schaefer should make it easy on everyone and simply yank Morales from the card. The risks are too great and the stakes are too high.
Clenbuterol is a bronchodilator, like ephedra, that stimulates the nervous system. Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Belcher died in spring training in 2003 after taking ephedra.
An investigation of deaths of race horses at New York tracks this year ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo showed clenbuterol to be a factor in the deaths.
Schaefer said he accepted positive tests as part of trying to rid boxing of performance-enhancing drugs.
"Look, these positive tests [to Peterson and Berto] cost us thousands and thousands of dollars," Schaefer said. "But there is no price tag you can put on safety. There is no price tag that can be put on transparency. I encourage other promoters to do the same [and have fighters tested].
"But we have to leave this to the experts. I don't have the expertise to decide this. The media does not. It is a very significant issue and it's one that the experts must decide."
Boxing is in desperate need of a comprehensive PED policy. But the rules, as they exist, encourage the promoters to do the wrong thing. Golden Boy has done the right thing by encouraging testing and has been burned to the tune of thousands of dollars lost. Promoters who are less financially solvent than Golden Boy are not going to seek testing given the risks, particularly since it's not an insurable loss.
Even penalty clauses that would fine fighters who test positive won't do much to help the innocent.
"Most of the fighters live hand to mouth and they don't have anything to pay a fine with," said one prominent fight manager who asked not to be identified. "They're not getting paid if they test positive [and don't fight], and now you're saying you want to fine them on top of that? Where are they going to get the money? I can guarantee you, most of them don't have it to pay it."
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Schaefer, though, can yank Garcia and Morales from the card and thus prevent a tragedy from occurring. As bad as it is whenever a prominent fighter tests positive – Morales is considered a likely Hall of Famer – it would be far worse if a serious injury or death occurred as a result of PED usage.
The stakes are enormous, and Schaefer is obviously reluctant to pull the fight, particularly since Garcia did nothing wrong.
But he should remember the case of American swimmer Jessica Hardy. She tested positive for clenbuterol at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials and eventually withdrew from the U.S. Olympic team. However, she maintained her innocence and in 2009, an arbitration panel ruled her ingestion of clenbuterol was inadvertent.
Still, she served a one-year penalty, missed the 2008 Games and then had to train for two years not knowing whether she'd be allowed to compete in the London Games in 2012. As it turns out, she was allowed and won two medals, a gold and a bronze.
She paid a far heavier price for a mistake that was not her fault than Morales would. If Morales' ingestion of clenbuterol turns out to be inadvertent, the bout can be rescheduled and he'll still earn his pay.
But 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.
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