Boxing has long been dancing back and forth across the line between being a feasible sport and a farce.

From fights that should have happened but didn’t, Youtubers becoming some of the highest-paid fighters and MMA stars stepping into the ring with some of the sport’s biggest names, boxing’s reputation has taken many a punch over recent years.

But when it comes to doping, boxing has well and truly gone beyond the pale.

For so many observers, the claim that boxing is a clean sport that takes anti-doping seriously has been well and truly dismissed in recent years.

The issue will have a spotlight shone upon it on Saturday when Conor Benn takes to the ring despite being embroiled in an anti-doping case that is yet to be fully resolved.

Late last year, Benn returned two positive drug tests for the substance clomifene, which is a fertility drug for women but which is banned in sport for its ability to boost testosterone.

The intricacies of the case are complicated but in short, the Englishman was suspended from the sport despite protesting his innocence. He was then cleared by an independent tribunal but the UK’s anti-doping agency, UKAD, are appealing that decision.

Meanwhile, Benn is allowed to return to the ring, and it looks likely he will fight on the Richardson Hitchins v Jose Zepeda undercard in Florida on Saturday. 

That a fighter who is in the midst of an unresolved anti-doping case is allowed to box is unacceptable.

Testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs is not nearly as grey an area as it has come to be viewed, accepting that the facts of this particular case are still to be resolved.

What should never be forgotten about such violations, but often is, is that anti-doping operates on a strict liability basis. The athlete, and the athlete alone, is responsible for what is in their body. If a banned substance is found, the athlete is liable.

A positive test can be mitigated; an athlete can give reasons or extenuating circumstances as to why the banned substance may be there and some of these reasons may be legitimate but that does not exonerate them of responsibility. 

Yes, there are cases in which an athlete fails an anti-doping test through no fault of their own. One of the most famous miscarriages of justice is that of Diane Modahl, the middle-distance runner who returned a positive test in 1994 but after a lengthy case, proved that there were major flaws in the testing process in the laboratory in Lisbon in which Modahl’s samples were examined, leading to her being cleared.

Similarly, more than 100 players at the FIFA under-17 World Cup in 2011 tested positive for clenbuterol, which has properties similar to steroids. However, it was shown they had eaten contaminated meat which had caused the adverse finding. 

There are, of course, other examples of athletes testing positive before ultimately proving their innocence. But let’s never forget that many athletes who test positive and protest their innocence are, in fact, guilty.

Within boxing, it may be Benn who is currently under the spotlight. But the problem is much wider. His presence in the ring on Saturday is only a symptom of a much wider problem, that boxing just doesn’t take anti-doping as seriously as it should.

Just last month, former heavyweight champion of the world, Anthony Joshua stated that “boxing has a doping problem”. He was under no illusion that boxing is not a clean sport.

The Herald: Anthony Joshua

His comments came after his opponent, Dillian Whyte, failed a voluntary drugs test just days before the pair were due to fight. Whyte has protested his innocence.

Benn and Whyte’s positive tests are just the latest in a long list of alleged anti-doping violations within the sport. The regularity with which top-level fighters return positive tests is, frankly, astonishing.

And the anti-doping programme within the sport is shambolic. Which fighters are tested, and when, remains, it seems, sporadic.

And what punishment should be meted out to fighters who fail voluntary tests is unclear. That there is no global, independent body that oversees anti-doping in boxing is a huge problem, and something that must be rectified.

Sport is nothing if it’s not clean; we’ve all seen how cycling and athletics have been battered into the ground with year after year of doping scandals.

But it would appear that doping in boxing is currently more prevalent than in almost any other sport.

Boxing is an extremely dangerous pursuit. People die in the ring, and serious injuries inflicted by one fighter on another.

So to allow fighters to step into the ring without knowing unequivocally they are clean is heinous. It is also why it is so difficult to understand why boxing is so lackadaisical in its approach to anti-doping. 

Doping in athletics is bad, but it is not going to kill any of the doper’s competitors. However, doping in boxing could have the direct impact of causing another fighter’s death. How can a sport tolerate that threat?

Boxing is, surely, going to reach a tipping point soon where it realises it cannot go on being weak on doping and dopers.

Benn stepping into the ring on Saturday is not a good look for the sport, even if the independent tribunal ruling clearing him is upheld,  but perhaps it will bring enough attention to the issue of doping in boxing that it will push the sport to take cheating as seriously as it should.