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Conor Benn may have to serve a doping ban if he is to salvage his reputation, according to promoter Eddie Hearn.
The Matchroom promoter is still adamant his fighter should not be suspended despite a positive drug test for fertility drug clomiphene which called off his clash with Chris Eubank Jr.
READ MORE: Conor Benn relinquishes boxing licence and misconduct allegations upheld
Hearn believes Benn can still clear his name, but admits the public may be uneasy about the situation if he doesn't face any sanction.
It was also revealed on Wednesday that Benn, 26, last week gave up his British Boxing Board of Control licence at a hearing where “allegations of misconduct” were upheld. The British Boxing Board of Control confirmed the boxer was “legally represented” at the hearing. But there is anger among Benn's team about how the BBBofC is handing the issue.
Benn's team remain intent on ensuring he does not face any ban, as the fighter reiterated his stance that he is a "clean athlete".
Hearn claims he is not involved in the legal battle as Benn fights to save his career. But he said: “I believe he is innocent.
“But at the same time you have to take responsibility, whether you are unlucky or not, that something has been found in your system. With what I know and believe, the purpose of the ban is more to suppress the public feeling and media around this situation.
“I don't think the public will be happy if he can't nail a specific contamination issue or whatever it is. The feeling will be 'he has got off it'. At the same time, I don’t think he should face a lengthy ban.
“If he’s innocent then I feel a ban is always harsh but I don’t feel he deserves a ban if he is innocent and he’s just been unlucky that represents a large part of his career which could ultimately be a two-year ban or something like that."
Benn’s move to relinquish his British Boxing Board of Control licence sparked confusion. It remains unclear what the “allegations of misconduct” refer to under the stated rule of 25.1.1 in the BBBofC rules but the fighter moved to state later on that it is not in relation to his positive VADA test.
Benn’s team cited the unfair nature of the BBBofC actions for his move to not renew his licence. It said: “Conor’s focus at this time is solely on clearing his name.
“The Board, however, have made it extremely difficult for Conor to focus on doing that by its conduct of an unfair and biased procedure.
“In such circumstances, Conor decided not to renew his licence (which had lapsed). Conor told the Board that if it did not accept it had lapsed, then he renounces it.
“He strongly refutes the allegation of misconduct (which for the avoidance of any doubt is not in relation to the VADA issue) and firmly believes that an independent tribunal will reach a wholly different conclusion.
“At the appropriate time Conor will speak out on this and on the doping allegation, to the extent that he can while legal proceedings are ongoing. In the meantime he reiterates that, in no uncertain terms, that he is a clean athlete.”
Hearn’s interview was conducted in London before the statements were later released by the BBBofC or Benn.
It was an attempt by the promoter to take on questions but, with his claims that he is not involved in the details of Benn’s ongoing battle to clear his name, it didn’t really establish any new facts around the case.
But Hearn tried to clear up earlier the process of how he ended up seeking legal advice as to whether he could forced the BBBofC’s hand to sanction the Eubank fight earlier this month after they refused to give it the green light in the wake of Benn’s positive sample.
The Matchroom chief was ridiculed for his brazen attempts to keep his fighter’s October 8 clash on when it was revealed a Voluntary Anti-Doping test had returned an adverse finding for banned substance clomiphene.
Hearn sought legal advice on avenues he could take to keep the fight alive but pulled the plug after 24 hours of chaos earlier this month.
He insists he should have put more pressure on the BBBofC to make a decision earlier rather than leaving it until they were notified on the Wednesday morning before the fight that they would not sanction it.
But he had admitted that the BBBofC got it right to call off the bout despite his bold attempts to keep it on against their will.
Hearn said: “When we contacted the Board [on September 23] it was very much a, look you’ve got the information, what are you going to do? You’ve said before you don’t acknowledge VADA, so what are we going to do?
“Okay, well let’s get the information and let’s do this, probably the process of time I think I would do differently.”
The right decision was made but the process to get there was troubling. In the end, the bout being cancelled cost Hearn and Matchroom £1m.
At around 8.30am on the Wednesday of fight week, the Board emailed Hearn and others involved in the fight to state they would not sanction it. The BBBofC had made their call the evening before, ahead of any story appearing in the media.
He said: “I was extremely p***ed off with how the board handled it.
“Over a period of seven hours I was thinking what do we do in this situation and these were the options presented to us – do we go for an injunction?
“Spoke to the lawyers and they said you win easy.
“A lot of people wanted to go with another commission because he's not banned. Ultimately, it was decided we were not going to proceed with this bout.
"They [BBBofC] made the decision, which I think was the right decision, and the fight never went ahead.
It is why it took until then that irked Hearn.
“From the 23rd of September we get analysis from the labs,” he said.
“That is shared with both teams, the Eubank team decided they were happy to proceed with the bout, we told Robert Smith, the general secretary of the Board, that and then said ‘you’re the governing body, what are you going to do?’
“They go quiet for five to six days, make their decision on Tuesday night and then send it to us on Wednesday morning. All of a sudden, we’re like ‘wow’.
“Before that, the Board had gone quiet. They requested information, got it all from VADA, and we even asked to have a hearing. Because in our situation I would much rather have a hearing and get cleared to fight because it almost covers us.
“I’m not throwing Robert under the bus, he’s a good bloke. But we went through this with Billy Joe [Saunders] when they didn’t suspend him and let him fight a few years back. There was correspondence from the board that said ‘we do not acknowledge VADA results’. They didn’t ban him because they don’t acknowledge VADA.”
It was pointed to Hearn that Saunders was not suspended as the substance he took was not banned “out of competition” which was when he tested positive for it ahead of a proposed bout with Demetrius Andrade in 2018.
Benn passed all of his UKAD tests conducted from July. Benn also tested negative with UKAD around the time of the adverse finding from VADA.
But the BBBofC use UKAD as their testing body. They do have a rule – which they used – to pull a fight if it is not in the interests of boxing. The issue only highlighted the complicated and rather ridiculous nature of drug testing for boxing in this country that they felt they couldn’t just act on VADA’s test findings.
“Robert Smith says ultimately they adhere to UKAD and don’t really take note of VADA,” Hearn said. “We put it in the hands of the Board and said, ‘Are you going to sanction it?’
“That’s why you have a governing body. In that instance, contractually I can’t cancel the fight. Legally you can’t. You have to put it in someone’s hands to make a decision. Chris Eubank has the right when there is an adverse finding to terminate the contract.
“I just feel like, ultimately, the Board should have acted quicker or they should have had a hearing to determine whether or not Conor Benn should be allowed to fight.
“If the Board sanction the fight and Eubank Jr wants to proceed with the fight… at that point it’s in the Board’s hands – we say it’s on you. Are we going to have a hearing? Are you going to sanction the fight.
“The disappointing thing looking back, because it ended up costing money, I wish they had decided what they wanted to do sooner. They wouldn’t make a decision after receiving the information.
“In the madness that was unfolding you have to let the Board decide. In this instance they’ve eventually acknowledged the VADA decision and made their decision. The cloudiness of whether you do accept VADA testing or not has been removed. It has been removed. Because they have done it here.”
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- Eddie Hearn
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