On Friday night, when most of the East coast was already fast asleep, the UFC released the good news that Nate Diaz had been cleared to compete at UFC 244. Diaz, they said, had not committed a violation of the UFC’s anti-doping policy while unintentionally ingesting the substance LGD-4033, and so, the BMF fight with Jorge Masvidal is apparently on. (Officially, the New York Athletic Commission will have the final say, but is not expected to object his participation.)
The UFC-USADA joint declaration of innocence, which Diaz demanded in order to fight, ended a whirlwind 30-hour stretch that began with Diaz publicly stating the result of an adverse finding in his most recent test. While the start and ending are now clearly understandable, it’s all the other stuff that remains a big mess.
Because within the statement announcing Diaz’s innocence, well, there’s a few doozies in there worth examining.
The biggest one kicks off the second paragraph. It reads: “As early as August 31, 2019, certain significant changes to the UFC Anti-Doping Policy have been agreed on in principle between UFC and USADA and, as such, have been put into practice.”
Here is the problem with that: where is the public transparency? Take a look at USADA’s UFC news page. As of Saturday morning, since Aug. 31, they have posted eight items. Every single one of them features the announcement of an anti-doping violation. No news of the policy shift. Likewise, there is no mention of this very important change on USADA’s social media, or within its UFC athlete handbook.
In fact, selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs), the therapeutic compound for which Diaz tested positive, is today listed by USADA as “prohibited at all times.” There is no minimum threshold exception, as is explicitly mentioned for other substances within the handbook such as salbutamol — ironically, the substance that caused Greg Hardy’s recent win to be overturned. It seems that would be important information to update, but yet nearly two months after these changes were agreed on in principle, they are nowhere to be found.
I am no lawyer, but “agreed on in principle” is not final. It is not formalized. It is a significant step forward toward that goal, but either a policy is official or it’s not.
To be clear, most of us would prefer that the athlete has the presumption of innocence, so while the result is a welcome one, the process still needs some fixing.
On Sept. 4, USADA lifted a provisional suspension on Neil Magny for a similar finding as Diaz, when he tested positive for a SARM, but below the minimum thresholds. That would have been a fitting time to codify and announce any policy changes, but the agency didn’t even publicly announce he was cleared. Instead, Magny released the news himself. From USADA, nothing followed.
That lack of transparency reared its head again with Diaz’s case. While USADA announced “the adoption of scientifically-based decision concentration levels, also known as minimum thresholds, for certain prohibited substances where evidence has shown that positive tests of these substances below the threshold are consistent with innocent contamination,” it didn’t say what the thresholds are, or for what prohibited substances they may apply. Shouldn’t that be public knowledge? Why is this happening piecemeal?
It was perhaps only Diaz’s star power and power play that forced such a fast process this time around. In less than two days, USADA was able to confirm the source of the SARM as an organic, vegan-based multivitamin and clear him, paving the way for the most anticipated fight of the year.
For almost literally everyone else on the roster, time stands still. The process is lagging and laborious, slowed by testing and bureaucracy. In the past, it was believed that was necessary due to the exacting standards of science. Accuracy, after all, should not be rushed. But now we know that is not exactly true, that things can be expedited to a sprint when necessary, so how does USADA put that genie back on the bottle? All of these men and women have their livelihoods on the line when one of these adverse or atypical findings come down, so why don’t they all deserve such a speedy resolution as Diaz?
If this faster, fairer process is ultimately where things are headed, that is a positive development. But if this was an isolated incident of Diaz flexing his promotional muscle, things need to be quickly reassessed.
For Diaz, there was a quick and satisfactory resolution. For the rest of the roster, USADA needs to make sure such a conclusion is even possible.