Canelo Alvarez: Damned if he did, dope if he didn’t
By Adam Godfrey: The Boxing world was rocked this week in the wake of revelations that its biggest star, Mexican Middleweight Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, tested positive for the known performance enhancing drug Clenbuterol. Clenbuterol has an established history of being used as a means to strip fat whilst retaining aerobic capacity, and its notoriety has grown thanks to high-profile Boxers being caught with it in their system in recent years. Mexican legend Erik Morales was suspended for two years after testing positive in 2013, and Australian Heavyweight Lucas Browne was similarly banned in 2016.
The connection between the drug, livestock and Mexico is explained succinctly on the website of the U.S Anti-Doping Agency (USADA):
N.B. It should be noted that whilst Canelo is enrolled in the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA) program and not the USADA program, the latter is a far superior source of information with regards to specific substances, their uses and the consequences of their use.
‘Further, there have been reports of Clenbuterol use to promote growth in livestock, including cattle, lamb, poultry and swine. Such use is illegal in the U.S. and in Europe.
Consistent with numerous prior reported cases globally, the issue of illicit administration of Clenbuterol to animals destined for food production can result in, under specific conditions, a positive sample from an athlete. WADA has issued specific warnings about this problem in China and Mexico. Unfortunately, anti-doping authorities have no control over agricultural and food safety practices in these countries, and inadvertent ingestion remains an ongoing issue for athletes.’
As such, it is irrefutably clear that Canelo’s positive result is, as is claimed by Golden Boy and Alvarez’s camp, potentially an innocent consequence of eating infected meat and not from intentional doping. There is habit in that specific part of the world for farmers to purposely expose their cattle to Clenbuterol to improve muscle content and reduce fat, and that when consumed, the drug can be inadvertently transferred from livestock to Man.
But therein lies the problem for the Canelo explanation of this result; when it is so widely documented that consuming meat produced by Mexican farmers can lead to a positive test for Clenbuterol, why on Earth would such a risk be taken? That the Canelo camp has now moved from Mexico to the US in preparation for the Golovkin rematch leads to the question of why it was not based there in the first place. As an elite sportsman with, presumably, an expert team around him (including nutritionists and doctors) is there any possible excuse for Canelo to have consumed infected meat, and in doing so put in jeopardy the biggest fight of the year?
The same USADA page that provides the above quote also states that:
Despite the continuously improving analytical methods in sports drug testing, especially using sensitive mass spectrometry, it remains difficult to determine if Clenbuterol has been deliberately administered or unintentionally ingested through contaminated meat.
Under the World Anti-Doping Code, Clenbuterol is a non-threshold non-specified substance, meaning that any amount of Clenbuterol detected in an athlete urine sample is reported as a positive test. Thus, it’s important to note that strict liability dictates an athlete has ultimate responsibility for what is in his/her system, regardless of its origin.
The message is clear; as an athlete, you are responsible for what enters your system, and questions as to whether an individual is clean or not are therefore justifiable whatever the given reason for the presence of an illegal substance is. If Canelo is not guilty of an intentional doping offense, and it is entirely possible that he is not, then he remains guilty of being extremely reckless in his conduct. Reputations are built upon a myriad of factors and can be neither established or altered overnight, nor is your given reputation ever entirely in your own hands. Avoiding situations that risk damaging you in the eyes of the paying paying public is the responsibility of the individual sportsmen, and in this sense at least Canelo has let himself down. The stigma of being labelled a potential drug cheat can only ever be damaging to the career of a Boxer, and Canelo must do whatever he can to definitively clear his name. If he cannot do so, it is conceivable that the Boxing public will henceforth eye his achievements with suspicion.
In the maelstrom of discussion following from this week’s disclosures there have been several threads of conversation regarding doping in Boxing as a whole. If there is one positive to be taken from what has occurred, it is that the majority of Boxing fans remain revolted by the idea of doping within the sport. Occasional voices (admittedly dim in volume and few and far between) suggest that PEDs should be allowed in combat sport. Such patent nonsense must be argued against whenever it is expressed. Sport is fascinating because it pits opponents against each other at the peak of their natural ability. It is why Boxing is so popular but ‘Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots’ is not.
Not only is allowing PEDs potentially hazardous to the health of both the self and the opponent, we simply do not want to see sport influenced by drugs. On the contrary, testing should become even more refined and penalties for flouting doping rules should become more stringent. The day that a proven dirty fighter badly injures or kills a clean one may be the day that the world turns its back on Boxing as a legitimate sport.
Canelo and his team have been stupid, of that there is little doubt. If the use of Clenbuterol is so common on Mexican farms, meat produced by them should not have been within a thousand miles of Canelo’s plate. He has both the motive and the means to avoid the risk of consuming contaminated meat and must do his utmost to steer clear of any more doping controversy, and must accept his portion of the blame for the current predicament he finds himself in.
As has been pointed out by Golden Boy, Canelo has been tested on numerous other occasions and has always had his results come back negative, and this should not be ignored when making one’s own judgement on Canelo’s innocence or otherwise. What is not in doubt is that lessons must be learned if our sport is to do itself the justice it deserves and be as clean as is possible.