There may be nothing more maddening for a devoted combat sports fan than learning that a fight has been called off or overturned because one of the competitors tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. When that happens who among us hasn’t imagined the full force of the legal system crashing down on that fighter’s head or wasted an afternoon dreaming up the worst kind of penalties imaginable for them: enormous fines, jail time, banishment, even public floggings? In those heated first days after the announcement no punishment sounds unreasonable for a fighter who has dashed our hopes, abused our trust, and tarnished our beloved sport.
Thankfully cooler heads always prevail, of course, and even fighters who receive lifelong bans and/or large fines escape public shaming and criminal prosecution. In the United States, anyway. It turns out in Germany they have a new law that makes doping a criminal offense, punishable by actual prison time. Under the country’s Anti-Doping Act, which was approved on November 27, 2015, and came into effect on December 17, anyone who sells, manufactures, dispenses, prescribes, administers, or takes an outlawed doping substance faces up to three years’ imprisonment. Three years in jail for taking PEDs. Russia would have to reopen its gulags and set aside a wing just for Olympians.
Earlier this week federal prosecutors in Germany announced that they had opened a criminal investigation under the new law against WBA super-middleweight boxing champion Felix Sturm. The 37-year-old German native of Bosnian descent tested positive for the anabolic steroid stanozolol after his split-decision title victory over Fedor Chudinov on Feb. 20 in Oberhausen, Germany. Sturm has denied any wrongdoing and he is currently waiting for the results of his B sample.
Stanozolol was first banned in sport by the International Olympic Committee and the International Amateur Athletic Foundation in 1974. It was the drug Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for after crushing American fan favorite Carl Lewis in the 100-meter dash at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Johnson was stripped of his gold medal and sent home in shame. Closer to home, former UFC veterans Tim Sylvia, Phil Baroni, and Chris Leben all tested positive for the steroid, as did current pound-for-pound women’s MMA great Cris “Cyborg” Justino following her December 17, 2011, mauling of Hiroko Tamanaka in Strikeforce, leading to a one-year suspension and a reputation she can’t seem to shake.
Sturm, meanwhile, is back in Bosnia after his now-questionable victory over Chudinov, which made him the first German five-time world champion. And while Germany and Bosnia are both signatories to the European Convention on Extradition, there’s no word yet as to whether the rules of that treaty extend to anti-doping violations, so even if his B sample comes back dirty Sturm may be able to avoid becoming the first athlete to serve prison time for attempting to gain an illicit hormonal advantage in a sporting event. And while I’m generally one to believe the punishments of the penal system should be viewed as the last resort for any truly civilized society, I’m aware that I’m saying that now, on a sunny day in September, when my memories of the collapse of UFC 200 at the hands of Jon Jones have faded, and all my other PED-related MMA disappointments have ceased to trouble me. But if either Dustin Poirier or Michael Johnson tests positive before or after their main event UFC fight this weekend in Hidalgo, Texas, or if “Cyborg” comes up dirty again when she fights Lina Lansberg next weekend, or if Dan Henderson once again tarnishes his all-American reputation before he gets a chance to rematch Michael Bisping on October 8, the angry, passionate, vengeful, unforgiving, punitive side of me will rear its ugly head once again, and then you might hear me calling for the UFC to start taking a more German approach to law and order.
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