Felix Sturm has to go to prison. That alone is no longer a big news. The former middle and super middleweight boxing champion was arrested a year ago when he appeared at the world’s largest fitness trade fair, Fibo, and has been in custody for eight months. Now he was sentenced to three years in prison by the Cologne district court. The verdict is not yet final, but even if it were to remain the same, Sturm could probably still serve his remaining sentence in open custody.
Sturm, whose real name is Adnan Catic, was found to have evaded tax evasion in six cases and attempted tax evasion in two cases. The public prosecutor initially charged the volume at 5.8 million euros. In the course of the process, the amount shrank to one million.
The judgment of the Cologne Regional Court is remarkable because it could have a signal effect far beyond the case. For the first time, a top German athlete was sentenced to prison for doping. Sturm had used a performance-enhancing agent in the World Cup fight against the Russian Fyodor Chudinov on February 20, 2016. The anabolic steroid stanozolol had been detected in A and B samples. The basis for criminal prosecution is the Anti-Doping Act of December 10, 2015.
Sturm and his lawyers had always rejected the accusation of deliberate doping. “I can say to the best of my knowledge and belief that I didn’t do this,” said Sturm. Judge Marc Hoffmann was not convinced – probably also because the boxer suspected that he could have ingested the prohibited substance through contaminated meat. Sturm’s defense strategy may have been copied from other boxers.
The Mexican superstar Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez escaped multiple locks by explaining the banned Clenbuterol in his body by eating meat.
The blemish: Clenbuterol is actually used in Mexico in cattle fattening, stanozolol, however, only in dogs, cats or horses. In this respect, Sturm should have explained credibly what particular type of meat was on his menu. But the former world champion had already gambled away his credibility in relation to the tax misconduct. The judge referred in the reasoning to a “miraculous increase in money”, which had made him sensitive.
The tax evasion, for which Sturm used a Swiss consulting firm, began as early as 2006, when the boxer was still under contract with the Universum stable in Hamburg, and in the following years, in which Sturm promoted himself, became so substantial that a suspended sentence was out of the question.
Regarding doping, Judge Hoffmann saw it as proven that Sturm took “conscious” and “on schedule” stanozolol from December 2015 to January 2016. It is common legal practice that the fundamentally different charges were negotiated together and summarized in the judgment.
The anti-doping law provides for a custodial sentence of up to three years if an athlete intentionally gains an advantage in competition. However, stricter principles apply and a sentence of one to ten years applies if the doped athlete “exposes another to the risk of death or serious damage to body or health”. Damage to body and health is now to a certain extent the basic principle of martial arts. It is precisely because of this that doping offenses in boxing, kickboxing, MMA or comparable sports are all the more serious because they increase the risk of serious injuries.
So far, this has been deliberately ignored by the responsible associations. “Boxing has great difficulties with doping,” said Judge Hoffmann when the verdict was given. And he’s right. There are no generally applicable regulations or central controls that apply equally to all world associations.
And the national associations do not test adequately. The National Anti-Doping Agency (Nada) has even refused to accept samples from the Federation of German Professional Boxers (BDB) – especially since the association has never signed the Wada Code and its President Thomas Pütz has given a questionable picture in the past in the fight against doping Has.
The BDB president also cut a bad figure in the Sturm case. Pütz supported Storm’s story that he had not knowingly doped. The association did not impose a ban despite a positive A and B test. This was in any case invalid because Sturm had injured himself after the Chudinov fight and was out longer than he would be banned. Now Pütz was “shocked” when he heard about the prison sentence: “I would not have expected such a judgment”, he said to the Cologne “Express”.
Doping in boxing: the Álvarez, Charr, Fury cases
The responsible world association, the World Boxing Association (WBA), has not yet canceled the result of the World Cup fight against Chudinov despite positive A and B tests by the German. Sturm is still the winner and would have remained world champion if he had not voluntarily returned the belt due to his elbow injury.
It is not the only doping case in which national and international associations have obviously made wrong decisions in recent years. In Mexico, the aforementioned “Canelo” Álvarez is one of many fighters who remained unpunished despite the doping offenses or who got off very lightly. WBA heavyweight world champion Manuel Charr escaped a lock after a positive A test due to a form error when opening the – also positive – B test.
The best heavyweight in the world at the moment, Tyson Fury, surprisingly dethroned Wladimir Klitschko in November 2015. The British association only announced at the end of 2017 that it had tested positive for the banned steroid nandrolone nine months earlier. The due lock was backdated. Fury had not boxed for two years due to various personal problems after the victory against Klitschko, made a comeback in 2018 and defeated the US WBC world champion Deontay Wilder in February this year.
The global doping problems in professional boxing will not solve the prison sentence against Felix Sturm. But at least German athletes should understand the judgment as a warning. “This is a precedent that will surely be observed and influence the jurisdiction,” says Hamburg lawyer Rafael Villena y Scheffler. “Other judges will now interpret the anti-doping law more strictly. The connection with the tax procedure in the specific case does not change anything.”