Ruann Visser, the hulking South African heavyweight boxing champion, recently tested positive for steroids, an offence likely to stop the local giant from entering the ring for two years.
He’ll have good company. A few weeks before him, SA middleweight champion Barend van Rooyen copped a two-year ban for doping. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the sport was awash with drugs.
You wouldn’t be wrong. Jimmy Cannon, the eminent American sportswriter from the 1950s, once described boxing as the “red light district of sport”. If it was seedy all those years ago, it is positively filthy now.
One look at the heavyweight rankings alone demonstrates this. Tyson Fury, the nominal “linear” champion, has served a doping ban.
Now on his way back, he’s escaped the usual disgust reserved for sport cheats – he’s a popular national hero.
Former title challenger Luis Ortiz is a serial doper, having twice served bans. Andrei Povetkin, the Russian contender, is another who has been caught. And so it goes.
Against this backdrop comes the most infamous case of recent times: Canelo Alvarez’s positive test for clenbuterol.
The middleweight superstar copped a feeble six-month ban, although the curious aspect of the sorry saga was how the ruling bodies, chiefly the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Association, wriggled their way out of sanctioning the fighter.
What you must understand is that such organisations are little more than fiefdoms with self-serving officials who bathe in cash, thanks to the outrageous sanctioning fees they demand from promoters.
In their case, Cannon’s description seems most apt.
Not only did both organisations stop short of banning Alvarez, their respective presidents publicly defended him, conveniently forgetting all about strict liability.
What they didn’t do was admit that the Mexican is a cash cow who fills major arenas in Las Vegas. Don’t kill the golden goose and all that...
Instead, it was left to the Nevada State Athletic Commission to wield the big stick, even though their six-month ban was laughable. In other sport, two years is mandatory.
The trouble with boxing is that it operates under a nudge-nudge-wink-wink policy. Some of the biggest names in the sport have been implicated in juicing over the years, among them James Toney, Evander Holyfield, Shane Mosley, Vitali Klitschko and our own Francois Botha.
None ever became a pariah like Ben Johnson did. Or Lance Armstrong. Or Justin Gatlin.
Where boxing sets itself apart is that there is no international authority to sanction the sport’s offenders. It’s like the Wild West, where anything goes.
Fingers are wagged and boxers rage against one another, but almost no-one who is in charge seems to care. With few exceptions, the steroid mob carry on without a bother in the world.
But things might be changing. Former cruiserweight champion Tony Bellew, who fought David Haye in London on Saturday night, was among several active fighters who raged against Alvarez.
“(He) should be BANNED FOR LIFE and then handed over to the Mexican cartels to be chopped up with a chainsaw and then fed to his horse,” tweeted the notoriously spiky fighter.
WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders was more measured, warning that only when someone in boxing died as a consequence of taking banned substances would the sport wake up.
“It’s diabolical… for someone of Canelo’s stature to get banned for (just) six months.”
Martin Murray, who fights Saunders next month, was more direct: “Boxing’s bent.”
Their comments reflect a groundswell of criticism from boxers themselves, although it’s telling that they are UK boxers, where testing is more stringent than in the US.
If enough of them speak up, doping might become the no-go zone it is in other sport.
The irony is that boxing thrives amid such chaos. Doping is considered a minor infraction.
No-one wants to imperil big-money earnings or threaten the grandees of boxing’s alphabet soup organisations.
The poor darlings won’t be able to quaff expensive champagne if they bothered to act decisively.
Meanwhile, lesser-known fighters like Visser and Van Rooyen are left to stew. They don’t generate big cash, so they are offered up as sacrificial lambs. Aged 42, Van Rooyen will never fight again.
Jimmy Cannon wasn’t wrong all those years ago.@ClintonV
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