Doping in Boxing: An Analysis of Clenbuterol and the Lucas Browne Case

After winning the WBA Heavyweight title from Ruslan Chagaev in Chechnya, Lucas Browne; a new found Australian hero, must now fight to clear his name of doping allegations from the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association (VADA).


Having overcome a knockdown in the sixth round, Browne returned to dispatch Chagaev with a stunning tenth round stoppage in Grozny.

It was a momentous occasion, not just for Browne, but for Australian boxing, who had claimed their first ever heavyweight champion.

A story of courage and heart, was soon replaced with shock and scandal, with the news that Browne had tested positive for anabolic agents, clenbuterol.

VADA – who rule under the guidelines set by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), noted that Browne’s post-fight drug test ‘A sample’ had come back positive, containing the banned substance known as clenbuterol.

Hatton Promotions made a slew of press releases, with the latest stating Browne had taken a pre-fight drugs test which had come back negative for all substances:

“We confirm that on 29 February, 6 days before the bout, Lucas Browne was subjected to an entirely random drug test by VADA. This was both a blood and urine test and was not planned or expected on that date or time.”

With Browne a clean fighter upon his entry to Chechnya, Hatton Promotions have launched ‘further investigations’ into those crucial six days and how Browne may have, in their understanding, inadvertently consumed clenbuterol.

The interesting part, Browne was the man who insisted upon having VADA drug testing for the fight, as opposed to the criticised RUSADA (Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency) that had been in effect for a for Chagev’s previous fights.

Ever since the news of Browne’s failed test circulated, there have been many misconceptions over clenbuterol – its actual classification, properties and effects.

Clenbuterol has been banned by the IOC and WADA (subsequently accepted by VADA) since the drug was added to their join prohibited list in 2003, however beta-2 agonists first appeared in 1993.

A new prohibited class was introduced in section one of their prohibited list, known as anabolic agents – this incorporated Clenbuterol.

It cannot be classified as an anabolic agent, rather as an agent with anabolic properties.

For any fighter with asthma who wishes to use clenbuterol as a decongestant and bronchodilator would have to apply to the regulatory commission – in this case VADA, for a therapeutic use exception (TUEs). Browne has never publicaly been stated to have issues with breathing.

Doping in boxing

In 2006 Kinderman and Meyer ran a case study, and concluded that there was no ergogenic potential of inhaled beta-2 agonists in non-asthmatic athletes. Moreover, concluding in instances of non-asthmatics there would be no significant performance enhancing effect.

However, there is another other common use for clenbuterol, which utilises its anabolic effects as a thermogenic, it increases basal metabolic rate, thereby increasing energy expenditure and making it easier to lose fat and therefore build lean muscle. This usage is very common in the bodybuilding community.

Similarly, clenbuterol has had a storied past for its use as a fat burner, but more controversially, through its use on livestock to improve the quality of meat. In the United States or any country which is a member of the European Union, the use of clenbuterol is strictly prohibited.

However, in countries with no livestock regulation such as Chechnya, there is a real risk of inadvertent clenbuterol doping.

On March, 30, Browne offered a follow-up statement, which furthered the speculation of potential ‘food-doping’ in Grozny.

“Following the clean test I ate only at the hotel in which we were hosted and at the meal following the boxers media weigh in. The water I drank on the night of the fight was sealed bottled water.”

It is of course entirely possible that the meat which Browne consumed whilst in Grozy was tainted, although it would be very difficult to prove. Also, if VADA ran a test on the meat used at the hotel, there is no certainty that the current batch of meat would contain any traces of clenbuterol.

Another issue of course, even including the meal following the weigh-in, Chagaev, who was also present for this, did not test positive for clenbuterol.

Doping in boxing

In 2008, American swimmer Jessica Hardy tested positive for the drug at the US trials.

She was given a one-year suspension losing her chance to compete at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Hardy claimed she unknowingly took the drug in a contaminated food supplement.

Another major incident containing clenbuterol, in 2013, Boxer Erik Morales claimed he tested positive for clenbuterol as a result of eating tainted meat in Mexico prior to his return bout against Danny Garcia in New York.

Despite the fact it was known Morales failed a drug test 24 hours prior to his fight, the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) made no action to withdraw Morales from the bout.

Browne has strongly contested his innocence, as have his management team, and for a man of his standing, with no past history of doping, as well as the clean drugs test six days prior to the fight, it is hard to overlook his defence as a genuinely ambassador for not Australian boxing, but the sport overall.

Unfortunately, because of the way VADA conduct and implement WADA drug testing, something known as strict liability may hamper Browne’s ability to completely clear his name.

Unless he or his management can come up with substantial evidence that show they bear no fault or negligence and can prove exactly how the prohibited substance entered their body, he will likely still face sanctioning.

Fellow boxer Morales, who also claimed he had eaten tainted meat in Mexico, was still sanctioned by USADA and given a two year ban from boxing.

For Browne, it is a critical time for him and the future of his boxing career, at the age of 36, his options look limited.

The World Boxing Association (WBA) illicitly state in their rules that in cases similar to Browne’s, no boxer which has tested positive for a prohibited substance can compete in a WBA sanctioned fight for at least six months since the date of the positive test.

Also, there is a strong chance the fight will be overturned to a no contest, and Chagev will be re-awarded his title. WBA rules also state the Australian will not be able to re-contest for the championship for up to two years.

As for VADA, they will deliberate their penalty for Browne based on the WADA code. As mentioned previously with strict liability, it doesn’t seem like he will be able to completely avoid the banning hammer, but if him and his team can get enough evidence together I would expect him to serve significantly less than the supposed two year ban.

There is hope for Browne in gaining a reduced ban, if recent events have shown us anything. UFC Middleweight contender recently tested positive for Ibutamoren, a ‘Growth Hormone Secretagogue’ (stimulant).

USADA initially set a two year ban for the violation, but with Romero contesting his innocence and that his violation was due to a ‘contaminated supplement’, his sentence was reduced to six months.

Browne, a man who defied the odds in one of Australia’s proudest ever sporting moments, was shortly after branded a drug cheat.

Regardless of how this pans out for Browne, one would have to argue if he can bounce back from the negative press that has consumed his life over the past month.

It’s becoming more evident that it’s a thin line between honour and disgrace in modern sport, as Browne now faces the biggest challenge of his career to clear his name.

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