Exclusive: Conor Benn provisionally suspended by UKAD

BOXING NEWS has learned that Conor Benn was provisionally suspended by UKAD on March 15. The suspension, which throws his comeback into doubt, is a consequence of Benn twice testing positive for the prohibited substance clomifene in the build-up to a proposed bout with Chris Eubank Jnr last year.

It’s a ruling with far-reaching consequences for Benn and beyond. UKAD operate under the rules of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) World Anti-Doping Code so Benn, and any person who in any way facilitates or participates in a Benn contest, could face significant action. That includes Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn, Benn’s promoter, who was exploring options for the British boxer to return this summer. Hearn has mentioned Abu Dhabi, Australia and Texas as sites under consideration for a Benn comeback, June 3 as the preferred date of the bout, and fighters like Eubank Jnr and Manny Pacquiao as potential opponents.

In a nod to boxing’s complicated and somewhat bendable relationship with doping rules, no professional boxing commission or governing body is a signatory to the WAD code. UKAD is, however. Therefore, the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBofC), who licensed Benn when he failed the tests and with whom Hearn currently holds a licence, are required to be compliant with the WAD code because they adopt UKAD rules.

In regard to those who facilitate competition for a provisionally suspended athlete, WADA article 10.14.3 reads: “Where an Athlete Support Person or other Person assists a Person in violating the prohibition against participation during Ineligibility or a Provisional Suspension, an Anti-Doping Organization with authority over such Athlete Support Person or other Person shall impose sanctions for a violation.”

More specifically, as noted earlier, on March 15 Benn was provisionally suspended by UKAD. UKAD article 10.14.1 applies to any British licence-holder who in any way facilitates Benn fighting while under suspension and reads as follows: “While serving a period of Ineligibility or Provisional Suspension, an Athlete or other Person may not participate in any capacity (or assist any Athlete participating in any capacity) in a Competition, Event or other activity (other than authorised anti-doping education or rehabilitation programmes) organised, convened, authorised or recognised by (a) the NGB [National Governing Body] or by any body that is a member of, or affiliated to, or licensed by the NGB; (b) any Signatory; (c) any club or other body that is a member of, or affiliated to, or licensed by, a Signatory or a Signatory’s member organisation; (d) any professional league or any international- or national-level Event organisation; or (e) any elite or national-level sporting activity funded by a governmental agency.”

In other words, any promoter, fighter, trainer or other BBBofC licensee who participates in any way in a Benn bout risks the loss of their BBBofC licence, and reputable entities are likely to be wary of involving themselves with a Benn competition unless and until his provisional suspension is lifted.

Conor Benn at Matchroom Boxing Gym on September 29, 2022 in Romford, England (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The events leading to that suspension are a matter of record. On October 6, 2022, Benn’s contest with Eubank Jnr – scheduled for October 8 – was cancelled after news broke that Benn had tested positive for clomifene, a hormone and metabolic modulator known to increase testosterone levels, following a test conducted by VADA (Voluntary Anti-Doping Association) on September 1. It later emerged that Benn tested positive for the same substance in an earlier VADA test, conducted as part of the World Boxing Council (WBC) Clean Boxing Program (CBP) on July 25.

Benn has maintained throughout that he is innocent of purposefully ingesting the substance, but he has remained unwilling to face authorities in the UK where he held a licence with the BBBofC at the time of the tests.

On the morning of October 21, before a BBBofC hearing which upheld allegations of misconduct against Benn, the boxer relinquished his licence with the governing body while claiming he was being treated unfairly. A subsequent attempt to clear his name resulted in a 270-page document being submitted by Benn’s attorneys to the WBC, a rankings body who thereafter ruled that there was no evidence, aside from the two positive tests, to prove he had knowingly taken clomifene. There was a suggestion the substance might have been present in Benn’s urine due to egg consumption, though Benn has since dismissed egg consumption as a defence. The WBC ruling saw Benn reinstated into the WBC welterweight rankings at number seven in March and, in April, he was elevated to sixth. A ranking with a sanctioning body is useless without a boxing licence from a governing body or commission, however. At the time of this writing, that crucial component for returning to competition remains elusive.

Furthermore, Boxing News understands that the WBC made their ruling only with regard to the first test that Benn failed, undertaken by VADA on July 25, 2022, as part of the sanctioning body’s Clean Boxing Program (CBP), in which all boxers wishing to be ranked by the WBC must partake. The WBC had nothing to do with the second positive Benn sample. The WBC never even got the test results for it. Thus, the WBC could not have made a ruling that exonerated Benn with regard to the second sample.

Benn and promoter Eddie Hearn have claimed that the BBBofC doesn’t have jurisdiction with regard to Benn’s positive test results because the tests were conducted by VADA, not UKAD. But Benn held a licence with the BBBofC at the time of both tests. And UKAD is the authority to whom BBBofC-licensed fighters must answer when it comes to doping violations. Therefore, both violations are a matter for UKAD to address, which they are now in the process of doing, despite Benn’s failure to comply with their request for further information.

The BBBofC’s Robert Smith would neither deny nor confirm Benn’s suspension. “We have been in correspondence with UKAD and they’re dealing with things now,” he said.

If Benn’s suspension could lead to adverse consequences for someone who fought Benn, trained Benn, or promoted Benn, or was otherwise involved with a Benn fight in the future, it is understood that Smith could ask UKAD for permission to share the information regarding Benn’s suspension directly with that third person or third party. The promoters of Chris Eubank Jnr, who up until recently was reported to be in negotiations for a June 3 contest with Benn in Abu Dhabi, have since indicated he will partake in a rematch with Liam Smith instead. It is not known, however, if information regarding Benn’s suspension was shared with Eubank or anyone involved in the potential rescheduling of that contest.

It is not known, either, if Benn will now answer to UKAD in an effort to get the suspension lifted. Should he do so, his case might ultimately be heard by the National Anti-Doping Panel who recently ruled that Amir Khan must serve a two-year ban following a doping violation in April 2022, despite accepting that he did not knowingly ingest a prohibited substance.

Contacted by Boxing News today, both promoter Eddie Hearn and Mike Morgan (counsel for Benn) declined to comment on the record with regard to whether Benn has been suspended by UKAD.

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