Q&A: Anti-doping in boxing

UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) has created this Q&A to clear up confusion around testing procedures in boxing, and the difference between UKAD and the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA).

Why is testing in boxing sometimes seen as more complex than other sports?

There are two forms of boxing in the UK;

Amateur boxing: Amateur boxers are those training and/or competing in the sport of boxing, under the membership of a National Federation affiliated to the International Boxing Association (AIBA). All AIBA-affiliated National Federations in the UK (i.e. England Boxing, Boxing Scotland and the Welsh Amateur Boxing Association) adopt anti-doping rules that are compliant with the World Anti-Doping (WAD) Code, created by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Professional boxing: Professional boxers are those training and/or competing in the sport of boxing, under the membership of the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC).

In professional boxing, there is no one set of anti-doping rules that applies to all boxers in different countries. Different professional boxing organisations have different rules and impose different sanctions for breaking those rules. In the UK, if a boxer gets banned for an anti-doping rule violation, they are banned from boxing in the UK for the entire length of their ban. However, there is no International Federation requiring other national federations to recognise the UK ban, so this ban may not be enforced outside of the UK. A boxer banned in the UK may therefore still be able to fight outside of the UK.

The BBBoC has adopted the UK Anti-Doping Rules as its own anti-doping rules. The UK Anti-Doping Rules incorporate the requirements of the WAD Code. This means that all anti-doping matters in UK professional boxing are conducted in compliance with the WAD Code and the International Standard for Testing & Investigations.

How is the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) different to UKAD?

Anti-doping in professional boxing globally does not operate in the same way as the UK - it depends on which body/organisation is licencing the fight and the specific boxing-related rules in place in each country (or where the fight is being licenced). At an international level, there are numerous sanctioning bodies with no overarching International Federation that is signed up to the WAD Code. So things such as anti-doping testing are not centralised nor harmonised and are not driven by signatories to the WAD Code. However, when needed, private sample collection agencies can conduct testing for professional boxing organisations.

This is where the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency (VADA) comes in - a private testing agency that delivers testing on behalf of whoever has requested it. For example, within professional boxing, that can be the sanctioning bodies, such as the World Boxing Organisation (WBO), World Boxing Council (WBC), or directly through the promoters of the boxers. As a private testing agency, VADA is not a signatory to the WAD Code. It has a slightly different Prohibited List (this is the list which says which drugs are banned and at what levels) and different whereabouts requirements (when athletes have to provide information on where they are so they can be tested at any time without any notice). It is also possible that UKAD and VADA could conduct testing on the same professional boxers. 

VADA collects samples and, if it finds the presence of a prohibited substance in a sample, it sends the sample to the relevant sanctioning body, for it to decide whether to sanction the boxer. This process is different to that undertaken by UKAD and is not in line with the requirements of the WAD Code (nor does it have to be). This can mean that the sanctions imposed by VADA are different from those imposed in the UK under the BBBoC’s Anti-Doping Rules.

In summary, UKAD is the UK authority when it comes to anti-doping and we abide by the rules of the WAD Code. VADA operates outside of the WAD Code and abides by the relevant rules of the sanctioning and/or licencing body.  

How is testing orchestrated in boxing and are boxers notified before they're tested?

Who should be tested is decided by UKAD and no approval is sought/required from the relevant sport. The BBBoC, like many other sports, also instructs UKAD to carry out testing on a contractual basis. This testing is carried out In-Competition (i.e. at fights) as this is a requirement to ratify a title fight. In these instances, both boxers taking part in the fight will be tested. 

What are the next steps when UKAD receives Intelligence on someone doping in sport?

UKAD will assess all intelligence received and decide what action to take. Sometimes UKAD decides testing is the right thing to do and we will test the athlete in question, without telling those people who work in the sport that the athlete is going to be tested. In other cases, we might start a full investigation.

What process is followed when it comes to sanctioning a boxer? Is there an independent panel?

If a boxer licensed by the BBBoC tests positive for a banned substance (or appears to have committed another anti-doping rule violation), UKAD will take disciplinary action by issuing a ‘notice of charge’ to the boxer, which means telling the boxer they are charged with an offence. If the boxer accepts the charge and does not want to have a hearing, UKAD will produce ‘a reasoned decision’, which can involve a ban from sport. If the boxer does not accept the charge or challenges the length of ban to be imposed, then the charge gets referred to the National Anti-Doping Panel (NADP). The NADP is made up of independent experts who will hold a hearing, where it will hear the case put forward by UKAD against the boxer, as well as the boxer’s defence, and then make a decision on the boxer’s sanction.

The NADP is the UK’s independent tribunal responsible for determining anti-doping disputes in sport, meaning it is also independent from UKAD. Once a case is referred to the NADP, the NADP sets the timeline for the hearing. All final decisions issued by the NADP can be challenged on appeal by the boxer. If the boxer competes at an international level, they can appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland. CAS is also independent from UKAD. If the boxer does not compete at an international level, they can appeal the decision to an NADP appeal tribunal. If UKAD is not satisfied with the outcome of an NADP decision, it also has the right to appeal the decision.

Do athletes have access to legal advice?

Athletes in anti-doping proceedings in all sports, at any level, have the right to access legal advice. If an athlete cannot afford to hire their own lawyer, the NADP can provide a lawyer to represent them free of charge.