A belated start, a ban on spectators and a global controversy surrounding the use of cannabis by a high profile athlete has left many questioning the legitimacy and integrity of the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
After testing positive for marijuana, animated and charismatic United States sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was suspended for 30 days by the International Olympics Committee, meaning she won’t participate in the 100 metre individual race and won’t feature in Team USA’s 4×100 relay team.
The triumphant rise and tragic fall of the talented American sprinter has drawn attention to the use of non-performance-enhancing substances and the penalties that follow, with many criticising the harshness of the month-long ban and triggering widespread debate.
“Unfortunately it is very unjust that policies still consider cannabis to be a narcotic substance,” Malta’s cannabis lobby, ReLeaf, told Lovin Malta.
“The athletes’ hard work and determination to dedicate her all to sports are now being jeopardised by an unjust approach on how to define doping and performance-enhancing drugs,” it said.
Richardson tested positive for cannabis after her Olympic trial run in Eugene, Oregon, last month. The athlete claimed she took the drug to help cope with the recent passing of her mother as well as the pressures that came with preparing for the trials.
While IOC rules dictate that she must serve a 30-day suspension, reduced from two years following a loosening of regulations in 2012, it begs the question of whether cannabis should be considered a banned substance at all.
“We feel that if athletes are not tested for alcohol, they should not be tested for other substances used in their private life, they have a right to privacy too,” ReLeaf continued.
Other sporting leagues have begun reducing their enforcement of cannabis rules and in some cases allow athletes to make use of the recreational drug during the offseason without any repercussions.
However, the IOC’s drug policies are designed to protect “the spirit of the sport” and promote fair competition with uncertainties surrounding whether cannabis can be considered performance-enhancing and whether it poses a safety risk by impairing judgment and reflexes.
“Should a natural product that helps recovery time without tampering or enhancing overall performance be considered a problem?” ReLeaf questioned.
“Until recently, cannabis was linked by experts to a sedentary and non-successful life, so it is unclear how it is now being considered as improved athletic performance,” it said.
The Sha’Carri Richardson ordeal has invoked widespread debate on whether cannabis should be under the IOC’s list of banned substances. While its influence isn’t as prominent as opiates and corticosteroids, the drug can help with muscle recovery and falls in a somewhat grey area.
“More information is needed, especially from a medical perspective,” ReLeaf continued. “However, disqualifying athletes from a simple urine test is somewhat barbaric and highlights the ongoing simplistic approach when addressing cannabis consumers”.
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