The Mail’s Riath Al-Samarrai provided a timely reminder about the necessity of real and unbiased journalism when he broke the story of Conor Benn’s failed test, writes George Gigney
THERE have been countless articles, interviews, think-pieces and videos covering the stunning implosion of the fight between Chris Eubank Jnr and Conor Benn, but none are more important than the one which started it all.
Riath Al-Samarrai, in a brilliant stroke of reporting for MailSport, broke the news that Conor Benn had tested positive for clomifene, a banned substance. This came just a few days before the fight was scheduled to take place.
The fight has now been postponed as a result and UKAD (UK Anti-Doping) are set to launch an official investigation into the failed test. That revelation also came from Al-Samarrai, who reports that Benn could face a four-year ban from the sport if he is unable to prove his innocence or mitigating circumstances.
This is one of the biggest British boxing stories in many years and Al-Samarrai should be applauded for bringing it to light. Had he not, there’s a very real chance we wouldn’t have heard about it until after the fact – perhaps not at all. Further reporting claims that Benn’s failed test result came back several weeks ago, meaning all those involved in the fight have known about it for some time yet said nothing.
This highlights a lot of worrying things about the sport we follow – many of them systemic shortcomings – but it also shows the importance of impartial journalism. We’ve seen, in recent years, a stark rise in the number of outlets reporting on boxing. They get access to fighters, promoters, shows and training camps.
What trained and experienced reporters like Al-Samarrai have that others don’t is the capacity to maintain a certain distance from those they report on. There is reverence and respect for those involved in boxing, in particular the fighters themselves, but also a drive to hold them accountable when they cross the line.
Those of us covering boxing have a responsibility to pursue and report the facts. This incident with Benn is a perfect example of how important that is; without it, we could have had an even more disastrous outcome.
It also raises the question: what else don’t we know? Not just with this failed test, but within boxing in general. Even when a blinding spotlight from some of the world’s biggest media outlets was cast onto this situation we could only find out so much. And even then there were conflicting reports over what was happening between Matchroom Boxing, the British Boxing Board of Control, UKAD and VADA.
There have been countless words written about this fiasco over the past few days. National newspapers and international sports outlets alike have weighed in. As ever it’s those who cover the sport for a living with the most nuanced takes. For BoxingScene, Tris Dixon penned a column highlighting how boxing needs drastic changes to the way it’s run before it is too late. He also listed a number of serious questions that need answering, but now it’s clear that the powers that be are positioning themselves behind a wall of legalese.
Don McRae wrote another excellent piece for The Guardian, refusing to hold back in his analysis of what went on over the past week or so. He came to the same conclusion as Dixon: boxing needs to change.
What we do seem to know is that Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua will not be fighting each other next. Before the Eubank-Benn fallout, voices on both sides of these negotiations indicated that the fight is essentially dead in the water. If that isn’t enough to upset you, then give this a spin: Fury could be fighting Derek Chisora instead.
According to The Telegraph the Londoner is now the frontrunner to face Fury in December for what could be the most pointless trilogy bout in the sport’s history. The pair fought each other in 2011 and 2014 with Fury winning both contests convincingly. He has since established himself as the best heavyweight on the planet. When he fancies it Chisora is usually good value for money but there’s no defending this fight if it’s confirmed to be happening. The only silver lining is that it would hopefully set Fury up to face Oleksandr Usyk in March or April of next year.
Credit where it’s due: the coverage of Eubank-Benn by iD Boxing was immense. On the day of the press conference the channel ran a livestream on site, providing updates as they came in and grabbing people for short interviews. Hosted by Rob Tebbutt and Castillo it was both entertaining and informative.
They spoke to journalists, former fighters and even boxers who were set to feature on the undercard. All were in agreement: the main event shouldn’t go ahead.
iD Boxing was also one of the few YouTube outlets to put harder questions to those involved with the staging of the event. Though the answers weren’t satisfactory, at least the questions were being asked.
IFL TV came under fire for not doing so during their exclusive sitdown with Eddie Hearn after the fight had been officially postponed. Some of that criticism was deserved given that the interview did not unveil anything new nor probed any of the major issues much. However it’s likely that Kugan Cassius, who conducted the interview, was told there were many things that Hearn simply couldn’t discuss because of legal complications.
On the day the fight was postponed, Hearn and Kalle Sauerland held a brief press conference – if you can call it that – to confirm the news to gathered media. Nobody was allowed to ask any questions. It was absurdly restrictive and the sort of move that makes boxing such a frustrating and depressing sport to cover at times.
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