On Friday, July 23, the best athletes in the world will gather in Tokyo, Japan, for the 2020 Summer Olympics. After a year delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic the Olympic Games are finally upon us. However, one of their best United States athletes, widely expected to enjoy a breakout performance on the global stage will not be eligible to compete in her signature event.
On July 1, it was announced that Sha’Carri Richardson, owner of the sixth fastest time in history in the Women’s 100M Dash at 10.72 seconds had failed a drug test, testing positive for THC. The positive test meant that due to the protocol set by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) her result at the U.S. Olympic Trials, in which she won the event with a time of 10.86 seconds, was invalidated. The selection criteria used for Team USA dictates that the top three finishers at the trials are selected to go to the Olympics. Richardson’s disqualification means that she will miss the chance to compete in the event in Tokyo.
As revealed in an interview on the TODAY show, Richardson divulged that she had used marijuana at the Olympic Trials after receiving news that her biological mother had passed away. Looking at the broader picture of things, the entire situation seems entirely ridiculous for the United States. The consumption of cannabis has been found to have no performance enhancing benefits and is legal in 18 states for recreational consumption, including Oregon, the state where the Olympic Trials took place. However, Richardson’s suspension does illustrate the complex nature of international sports.
When viewed from an American perspective, Richardson’s suspension appears totally unjust and unneeded. However, one must consider things from the global perspective when examining marijuana and the regulations against it by USADA. USADA is a signatory of the regulations on prohibited substances put forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and is bound by them. While marijuana is quickly gaining more and more support in the United States as a completely legal drug for recreational purposes, it has not enjoyed that same support globally. As it stands right now, only five countries in the world have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes; Canada, Georgia, Mexico, South Africa and Uruguay. The vast majority of other countries in the world still view marijuana as an illegal drug. As Americans, we tend to evaluate issues like this from our own perspective and with our own interests and values in mind. If we look at the issue from a global perspective, however, it’s little surprise that WADA views marijuana as a drug worth banning. When the overwhelming majority of your members view something as illegal, WADA is almost assured to view it in the same manner. If one were to apply different standards of what could be considered an illegal substance based on where it was taken, there would be complete chaos. A single standardized code of illegal substances is an absolute must when it comes to international sports and in this instance, the United States is in the vast minority regarding the world’s position on marijuana.
The view of marijuana as an illegal drug is likely an outdated viewpoint and the rule prohibiting its consumption in a competitive setting is antiquated at best. It is, however, the rule. As unfortunate as it is that Richardson will miss the chance to compete in the 100M and we will all be robbed of the opportunity to see her square off against Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in what was shaping up to be a battle for the ages, this turn of events could’ve been avoided. The circumstances behind her consumption of the prohibited substance are obviously extraneous. The death of a relative is never easy and to criticize someone for a decision they made in that circumstance is simply unfair. With that being said, the consequences for her actions are clear. Professional athletes are intimately familiar with what they can and can’t put in their bodies. Even knowing this, she made a decision that while likely a good decision for her in the moment, put her participation in the Olympics at risk. Such decisions carry consequences, and in this case, it cost her dearly.
The rules leading to this result are in need of an overhaul but for now, they are the rules. The only way rules carry power is if they are enforced no matter what the infraction may be. Luckily for Richardson, the future still remains bright for her. Her suspension has been reduced to the shortest length possible of one month, at only 21 years of age she has many more chances to claim gold in the 100M. That first opportunity, however, will have to wait on account of rules that, no matter how antiquated, still must be followed. To her credit, Richardson has accepted responsibility and the punishment for her actions with grace. What the next chapter of her story will be is still to be written.