A heavyweight doping battle between Tyson Fury, VADA, UKAD and the BBBoC

Published 15 June 2017 | Authored by: Phil Bonner

This article examines the doping allegations currently facing heavyweight boxer, Tyson Fury. Specifically, it looks at:

  • Alleged positive test for cocaine by Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA)

  • Suspension of Fury’s boxing licence by British Board of Boxing Control (BBBoC)

  • Alleged positive test for nandralone by UK Anti-Doping Association (UKAD)

  • UKAD’s hearing and potential conflict of interest concerns

  • Further allegations of refusing to provide a sample to UKAD

  • Timing of UKAD’s decision to charge Fury

  • Stance of the BBBoC

 

Background

After Anthony Joshua’s triumph against Wladimir Klitschko[1] on 29 April 2017 in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, the heavyweight division of boxing is currently enjoying a level of media attention in the UK that it has not experienced since Lennox Lewis ruled the division in the late nineties and early noughties. 

Having already been well known to the public after his gold medal-winning exploits[2] at the London 2012 Olympics, Joshua’s spectacular victory over a highly respected former champion in an exhilarating contest has cemented his place in the wider public consciousness for the foreseeable future.

Such is the way with boxing, no sooner have the fighters pulled off their gloves, the victor of a contest is swiftly asked about their future plans, including who their next opponent will be.  In Joshua’s case, there are a number of intriguing options.

Reports suggest that Klitschko will activate a rematch clause in the contract for April’s bout, with Joshua potentially resuming hostilities with the Ukranian as soon as November[3].  The WBC Champion and knock-out artist Deontay Wilder is another future opponent who will be firmly on the radar of Joshua’s promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, along with a potential fight with the mandatory challenger for Joshua’s IBF belt, the rugged Bulgarian Kubrat Pulev.

But there is a bigger elephant in the room, one standing at 6ft 9in tall who also has an impressive victory over Klitschko on their résumé.  Indeed, when discussing the Klitschko rematch, a mega-fight in its own right, Hearn conceded[4] that it was “the biggest fight for Anthony Joshua outside of Tyson Fury”.

Fury, the self-proclaimed[5]Gypsy King”, shocked the boxing world when he outfoxed and outboxed Klitschko in Düsseldorf in November 2015[6] and ended the Ukranian’s domination of the division. However, since that famous victory, Fury’s career has been derailed by a number of factors.

 

Alleged positive test for cocaine by VADA

After Fury pulled out of a planned rematch with Klitschko, for the second time, on 29 September 2016 having being declared[7]medically unfit to fight”, it was reported[8] that he had tested positive for benzoylecgonine, the central compound found in cocaine.  The benzoylecgonine was said to have been located during a random urine test conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (“VADA”).

By way of background, VADA promotes[9]effective anti-doping practices and programs in boxing and mixed martial arts” and seeks to offer athletes “an opportunity…to demonstrate their commitment to clean sport”. For major bouts in both boxing and mixed martial arts, it is increasingly common for fighters to agree to rigorous drug testing by an independent agency in advance of a bout as a term of the contract.  That testing programme can be undertaken by VADA, as was the case for the mooted Fury and Klitschko rematch, or, alternatively, the United States Anti-Doping Agency if the bout in question held on US soil (a notable example[10] being the “super-fight” between Floyd Mayweather Junior and Manny Pacquiao in May 2015).

In addition, some of boxing’s governing bodies have joined forces with VADA, in order to improve anti-doping procedures for fighters who are in its rankings and wish to fight for their titles. For example, in March 2017, the World Boxing Association joined forces with VADA and announced[11] its “Fair Boxing Program”, whilst the World Boxing Council (“WBC”) has made out of competition testing by VADA mandatory[12] for all of its world champions and for fighters ranked in the top 15 of the WBC’s rankings for the various weight divisions.   Should any of those fighters fail to enrol, the WBC has confirmed that they will be removed from its rankings.

Returning to Fury’s reported[13] positive VADA test for benzoylecgonine, given that Fury subsequently admitted to using cocaine[14] in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine on 4 October 2016, as well as speaking in detail about his long-standing battle with mental illness (something that he had previously spoken about as early as 2011[15]) the news did not come as a huge surprise to boxing fans.   

 

Suspension of Fury’s boxing licence by British Board of Boxing Control

Shortly after, on 13 October 2016, the BBBoC suspended[16] Fury’s licence, a suspension which remains in place. Consequently, as things stand, Fury is unable to fight until that suspension is lifted and his licence is reinstated by the BBBoC. 

 

Alleged positive test for nandralone by UKAD

A statement[17] on the BBBoC’s website confirms that Fury’s licence remains suspended “pending further investigation into anti-doping and medical issues”. The reference in that statement to “anti-doping…issues” is important. Because, in addition to the alleged positive VADA test for benzoylecgonine, newspaper reports had previously surfaced in June 2016[18] that Fury, along with his lesser-known fighting cousin, touted heavyweight prospect Hughie Fury, had tested positive for nandrolone during urine tests conducted in February 2015 by the UK Anti-Doping Association (“UKAD”).

Indeed, a statement[19] on the UKAD website on 3 August 2016 confirmed that Tyson and Hughie Fury were charged on 24 June 2016 with the presence of a Prohibited Substance (albeit it is unclear whether the substance is nandrolone or whether the charge relates to a further positive test) and that Mandatory Provisional Suspensions had been imposed pursuant to Article 7.9.1 of the UK Anti-Doping Rules[20] (UKADR).

After Tyson and Hughie Fury challenged the Mandatory Provisional Suspensions and vehemently denied any wrongdoing, the suspensions were lifted pending a full determination of the charges in due course[21].

 

UKAD’s hearing and potential conflict of interest concerns

Given Tyson Fury’s subsequent medical problems and break from the sport, the hearing into the UKAD charges was delayed indefinitely and Tyson Fury’s licence remained suspended.

However, when the drumbeat for the prospective Joshua bout began in earnest, Fury was awakened from his period of inactivity. The former champion was quick to announce his return to training[22], proclaiming his confidence in emerging victorious[23] and the hearing to determine the UKAD charge was eventually commenced on 8 May 2017.

However, that hearing was postponed[24] after just two days, when concerns were reportedly raised[25] by UKAD’s lawyer regarding a member of the three-person panel having an undeclared potential conflict of interest. At present, a revised date for the hearing has yet to be confirmed.

 

Further allegations of Fury refusing to provide a sample to UKAD

And, in a further twist to the saga, it recently emerged that Tyson Fury refused to provide a sample to a UKAD doping control officer last year, an offence which, under both the World Anti-Doping Code[26] (“WADA Code”) and the UKADR, is treated in the same way as a failed test[27].

In particular, Article 2.3 of the UKADR confirms that a refusal to provide a sample to a UKAD doping control officer is treated as a failed test unless there is a “compelling justification” for failing to do so.  Given that Tyson’s promoter Frank Warren has stated[28] that the refusal to provide a test occurred during a time when Tyson was battling with mental illness, it is likely that Tyson’s mental state at the time he refused to provide the sample will form part of his submissions at the hearing. 

Whatever defence Tyson does raise, this latest revelation adds a further complication into what is already a farrago of official statements and newspaper reports.

 

Timing of UKAD’s decision to charge Fury

What makes UKAD’s decision to charge Tyson and Hughie Fury all the more intriguing is the timing of its decision. Whilst the initial positive tests were allegedly recorded in February 2015, no Mandatory Provisional Suspensions were imposed at that time under UK Anti-Doping Rules, with the eventual charges only following over 12 months later.  As far as the author is aware, there has to date been no publicised administrative reason for this delay. 

In the interim, Tyson Fury went on to dethrone Klitschko in November 2015, whilst Hughie Fury has fought a further six times from mid-February 2015 to April 2016. 

 

Stance of the BBBoC

The BBBoC’s reaction to UKAD’s decision to charge Tyson and Hughie Fury is also worth scrutinising. The BBBoC’s general secretary, Robert Smith, confirmed[29] that Tyson Fury’s

"license was suspended by us automatically last August when he was charged by UKAD and suspended by them. Then the mental health issues came along. They have been running at the same time as each other". 

However, it is unclear whether the BBBoC did automatically suspend Tyson Fury’s licence following the UKAD charge in June 2016, with an official announcement only being made in October 2016 after Fury declared himself medically unfit to fight and admitted to using cocaine.

In contrast, whilst Hughie Fury has not fought since his April 2016 bout against Cameroon’s Fred Kassi, he is listed as having a licence on the BBBoC’s website, with a re-scheduled bout with the WBO World Champion Joseph Parker reportedly set to take place in Manchester in September 2017[30]. Consequently, the extant UKAD charge does not appear to be deterring Hughie Fury and his team from agreeing to high profile contests.

Regardless of the above, it is clear that Tyson Fury will not be able to regain his boxing licence from the BBBoC and return to the ring until his difficulties with UKAD are resolved. Smith has made it clear[31] that the BBBoC is awaiting the outcome of the UKAD hearing before considering lifting the suspension.  Should Tyson Fury be cleared of the charge, BBBoC will then have to consider his mental health issues, with Smith confirming[32] that the BBBoC would be seeking assurances that Fury is mentally well enough to fight, which will include a “full consultant’s report” confirming that this is the case.

 

Comment

At present, given UKAD’s understandable policy of not commenting on ongoing legal proceedings, the full facts regarding the charges against Tyson and Hughie Fury remain unclear at best.  And, until the current mystery surrounding Tyson Fury’s doping issues is solved, the much-anticipated showdown between Joshua and Fury will have to remain on ice for fans and promoters alike.    

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About the Author

Phil Bonner

Phil Bonner

Phil Bonner is an associate at Centrefield LLP, a sports and media law boutique based in Manchester, England.

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