TORONTO (Reuters) - The Ultimate Fighting Championship claims to have the toughest drug-testing in North American sport but doping officials disagree and have challenged them to get serious about ensuring their sport is clean.
With a record 55,000 mixed martial arts fans expected to pack into the Rogers Center on Saturday for UFC 129, organizers say every fighter stepping into the cage for a title bout will be tested for performance-enhancing drugs.
But the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport (CCES) and USADA say they have had no role in the UFC's anti-doping efforts and have not tested a single fighter.
Instead, testing has been left to individual state and provincial athletic commissions, which USADA chief Travis Tygart describes as woefully inadequate.
"They want, for public relation and marketing reasons, to say they have something that makes them look better than they truly are," Tygart told Reuters.
"Why don't they have better rules to give athletes and sports fans comfort that there is not a rampant culture of cheating with dangerous drugs going on in their sport?
"They're trying to pull a fast one here."
Tom Wright, the UFC's director of Canadian operations, told Reuters that testing at UFC 129 would follow WADA guidelines but neither WADA nor the CCES will conduct testing.
A WADA spokesman told Reuters the anti-doping agency has had no contact with the UFC while the CCES confirmed it had approached the UFC about the need for testing but so far has not been involved in any of the UFC's Canadian events.
The Ontario Athletic Commission, which sanctioned the event, told Reuters in an email that it does not test at this time and that the commission would only oversee testing if the agreement between the fighter and the promoter required it.
"We would like to work with CCES but these things take time," Wright said. "But the important thing is it has not changed our philosophy as it relates to drug abuse in our sport."
Wright said, that the Quebec Athletic Commission will oversee testing at UFC 129 and that all samples will be analyzed at the WADA accredited laboratory in Montreal.
While the UFC's testing protocols do not meet WADA's stringent standards, the organization has weeded out drug cheats and handed down harsh punishment.
Most recently, light heavyweight Thiago Silva failed a drug at UFC 125 and has had his license revoked for a period of one year and fined 25 percent of his fight purse and win bonus.
"What a lot of people don't realize is we are regulated by the government," UFC president Dana White told Reuters. "The government oversees what we do and the government comes in and drug tests these guys.
"If you get caught using steroids these days you seriously have to be a moron."
In the United States, where the majority of UFC events are staged, it is the state athletic commissions that do testing.
Tygart said not only are the state athlete commissions inadequate but that lawyers for mixed martial arts argued at a recent Nevada State Athletic Commission hearing against beefing up anti-doping efforts with blood-testing.
"Not only are they not WADA Code compliant they have fought tooth and nail not to have any principles of the WADA Code," said Tygart. "It's a joke that they claim they are trying to protect their sport with WADA policies.
"Make no mistake, rules that apply to UFC in the states are horrific in comparison to the WADA Code."
(Editing by Julian Linden)