Anthony Joshua (left) will face off against late substitute Robert Helenius (right) in London on Saturday. Anthony Joshua says boxing “clearly has a problem” with doping after Dillian Whyte failed a voluntary drug test and was withdrawn from the all-British heavyweight competition on Saturday. Joshua, 33, will instead face Robert Helenius at London’s O2 Arena, with the 39-year-old Finn set to start the fight with just a week’s notice.
Asked by BBC Sport if boxing has a problem with doping, Joshua said: “I don’t know how they’re going to deal with that or what their solution to this problem is. But there is clearly a problem.” For the third time in 12 months, the sport of boxing faces serious questions about the credibility of the sport and its anti-doping protocols. In October last year, Conor Benn’s fight with Chris Eubank Jr. during fight week was canceled after it was revealed Benn had failed two voluntary drug tests. Benn has always maintained his innocence, as has Whyte.
Amir Khan has been banned for two years after an anti-doping test revealed the presence of a banned substance after his fight against Kell Brook in February 2022.
The case was not heard by an independent court until January 2023.
It was confirmed on Tuesday that Joshua would fight Helenius instead. It’s the second time Joshua has had to pull an opponent out of a fight for an anti-doping violation.
In 2019, Andy Ruiz Jr. stepped in with a month’s notice when American Jarrell Miller tested positive for multiple banned substances. For several years, Joshua has paid for additional testing by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association to go hand in hand with testing by the UK Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD).
In their latest report, Ukad conducted 213 in-competition and 133 out-of-competition tests on fighters affiliated with the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC). However, there is no standardization of anti-doping rules in global boxing, leading fighters like Joshua to insist on extra steps to conduct regular testing.
But Joshua acknowledges that not every fighter has the resources to undertake additional testing, and his promoter Eddie Hearn said regular testing below boxing’s elite level is required.
Matchroom CEO Hearn was involved in both the Whyte and Benn cases. He promotes both fighters. Other high-profile athletes failing tests and serving suspensions include Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in 2018 and Tyson Fury in 2015 – both blaming it on eating suspicious meat.
Joshua, on the other hand, says he’s not surprised by doping scandals in boxing.
“The thing is, people are like, ‘How long has this been going on?’”
“I ask myself, ‘How long has this situation been going on?’ In a way, boxing doesn’t shock me anymore.”
The two-time world champion added: “It’s not just about the belt you’re fighting for, it’s also about letting this game be up to your skill level. Boxing is a dangerous, dangerous sport. Even when it comes to anti-doping folks.” Take it for granted.
Welterweight Benn failed two voluntary tests for the female fertility drug clomiphene ahead of the canceled fight with Chris Eubank Jr. in October.
Benn was suspended by Ukad pending investigation before his suspension was lifted on July 28.
The case may not be fully resolved – the panel said it has 21 days to assess whether to appeal the decision by the independent National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP).
Benn and Whyte say they are innocent of intentional doping. However, both cases highlight the confusion surrounding drug testing in British boxing and raise questions about the penalties for fighters who fail voluntary drug tests.
Both Brits reported “adverse results” in tests conducted by the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (Vada), but the BBBoC is taking its cues from the Ukad tests.
Matchroom and Benn weren’t sure if the BBBoC was in charge of the Vada testing, so they didn’t immediately cancel the fight. Eubank Jr was happy to go ahead with the fight before the board’s decision not to sanction the fight resulted in it having to be canceled two days before the event.
In the case of Whyte, the fight with Joshua was canceled immediately after Matchroom was notified by Vada.
Hearn says that’s because Joshua refused to fight Whyte after hearing about the results at 0700 BST on Saturday morning, but also said they learned from the mistakes made in Benn’s tests .
However, confusion remains over what happens to a fighter who fails voluntary drug tests. The BBBoC argued that it had jurisdiction and suspended Benn on that basis. But an independent NADP lifted Benn’s suspension after hearing the case.
The details of their decision are unknown and Ukad may still appeal the verdict.
For failing the Ukad test, a fighter faces a two-year ban regardless of intent – as in the Khan case earlier this year, where the tribunal ruled out “willful or reckless conduct”.
“Vada is a reporting agency. So how can Dillian Whyte clear his name or attempt to do so?” asked Hearn.
“I don’t know the answer to that. He is not licensed by the BBBoC but by Portugal where he lives. What will they do about it?”
There is no global independent body that sets standards for all of the sport – something Hearn says needs to change.
A universal body that could oversee uniform testing, rules and penalties for doping violations.
“Every state has governing bodies that have their own rules,” he says. “The UK board has rules and even that is not clear.
“I think we need clear rules for sport worldwide – which is easier said than done.”