Dr. Margaret Goodman isn’t ready to throw in the towel in her fight for a cleaner and safer sport.
The Hall of Fame-elected founder, president and board chairman of Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) has seen her company remain in the headlines as it relates to the upcoming ESPN boxing telecast this weekend in Tucson, Arizona. The event’s headlining act is two-division and reigning WBC junior lightweight titlist Oscar Valdez (29-0, 23KOs), who was recently flagged by VADA after testing positive for Phentermine in advance of his title defense versus Robson Conceciao (16-0, 8KOs).
The testing sample was collected on August 13, though with news of the positive test only making the media rounds more than weeks later. It was argued by Valdez and his team that the substance—a prescription-only appetite suppressant to assist in weight loss and to combat obesity—was unintentionally ingested through a contaminated product.
The argument was maintained through testing of his “B” sample which produced the same results, though proving moot. It was determined by the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Athletic Commission—the presiding authority over Friday’s event from AVA Amphitheater at Casino del Sol in Tucson, Arizona—that Valdez would be cleared on the basis of its own recognition of World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) code, which differentiates between “in-competition” and “out-of-competition.”
Phentermine is only banned in-competition under WADA rule, meaning it is approved out-of-competition which is the period up to 11:59 p.m. prior to the day of the event. VADA does not differentiate between the two, which in turn partially explains why the independent testing agency—which lacks the authority to adjudicate—tends to produce far more positive results than the typical state commission through its testing protocol.
Despite the encouragement from both the Pascua Yaqui Tribe and the WBC—whose Clean Boxing Program allegedly adhered to VADA’s list—the goals and policy of VADA remain intact.
“Since VADA began its program in 2011, our mission has been steadfast - to remain independent and offer and promote effective anti-doping programs in boxing and mixed martial arts through testing and education,” Goodman explained in a statement provided Monday to BoxingScene.com. “Our board of directors and officers have more than 100 years of combined experience in combat sports and anti-doping.
“Some facts that have remained unchanged since VADA’s inception include:
1. Performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) remain a significant problem in boxing and MMA.
2. Well over a thousand fights with no PED testing take place in the United States in an average year. And few fighters undergo PED testing in the weeks and months leading up to a fight.
3. When PED testing is performed by state athletic commissions, the commissions seldom test for hGH (human growth hormone), EPO (blood doping) and IRMS (a test for exogenous testosterone), all of which are tested for by VADA. Only a handful of U.S. commissions use WADA-accredited laboratories (which VADA uses) and even fewer commissions utilize certified doping collection officers.
4. VADA is independent of the many public and private entities in boxing and MMA.
5. VADA is not a signatory to WADA, so we can adhere to what we believe is needed to maintain the strongest anti-doping program possible specific to combat sports under the financial constraints that we face.
6. VADA has only one list of prohibited substances—and these substances are prohibited at all times during the VADA program.
7. It is not VADA’s role to adjudicate results. And VADA cannot force entities who receive notice of our adverse results to act on them.
8. Fighters who enroll in VADA do so voluntarily.
9. Local athletic commissions and the Association of Boxing Commissions can choose to follow their own prohibited list. But if they enforce little or no drug testing, then this adoption has no meaning. It’s just words.
10. Vigilance with regard to PED use is essential to fighter safety, which is our primary concern.
“VADA stands by its decision to maintain a single list of substances that are prohibited at all times instead of having a separate “out-of-competition” prohibited list. Boxing and MMA are inherently dangerous. The hazards and risks are not limited solely to the day of the fight. VADA chooses policies that we believe are the best interest of the fighters, and VADA believes that two lists would place fighters at undue risk.”
There have been past instances where the WBC has reported adverse findings in test results through its Clean Boxing Program, and where said cases have been dismissed upon the determination of levels being consistent with contamination. This particular matter has left the industry divided on where the sport should stand regarding random drug testing.
It has been argued that WADA is the wider-accepted authority, as nearly all state commissions adhere its banned list in written form. Some commissions, such as Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC)—considered to be the strongest in the United States—conducts its own random testing far more than other stateside authorities. NSAC regularly contracts VADA for its own random testing, though not exclusively bound to the testing agency.
Most other commissions remain in support of WADA, even with fights such as Valdez-Conceicao where both boxers specifically enrolled in VADA directly and not just through the WBC Clean Boxing Program. Because of how most commission policies are written—some specific, some loosely-worded—it has come into question why one agency would have separate lists for in- and out-of-competition, while another would consider those same substances to be banned at all times. The matter was even argued by the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), standing tall with the Pascua Yaqui Tribe in honoring WADA rule despite the fighters themselves agreeing to honor the guidelines that come with VADA testing.
“I won’t elaborate at length here on the risks inherent in the use of stimulants—whether during a fight or during training—including how stimulants act on the central nervous system and cause withdrawal side effects,” notes Goodman. “These risks can be reviewed online. Putting aside these dangers, stimulants can enhance performance in ways that include, but are not limited to, increased metabolic rate, power, and strength. They decrease fatigue, aid in weight loss, and suppress appetite. They can provide an unfair advantage in competition.
“VADA remains committed to supporting combat sports and protecting the fighters to the best of our ability.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox