The supply of U.S. sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson’s anti-doping rule violation was not a missed drug check or forged hospital records. It was not an anabolic steroid like stanozolol or nandrolone. It was marijuana.
And that left many informal sports activities followers scratching their heads.
How may Richardson’s one month suspension, which the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced Friday, be the results of a substance that’s authorized in 18 states?
How may the 21-year-old be successfully barred from competing in her main occasion — the 100-meter sprint — on the Tokyo Olympics, due to a drug that has not been confirmed to boost athletic efficiency?
Roger Pielke Jr., a professor on the College of Colorado who research sports activities governance, mentioned these are honest questions. And, in his thoughts, they level to among the inconsistencies in worldwide anti-doping guidelines.
“I assume my general response is that for somebody attempting to make sense of this, it could be a irritating enterprise,” he mentioned. “As a result of it would not essentially make lots of sense.”
Earlier than understanding why marijuana triggered Richardson’s suspension, it is vital to grasp how anti-doping protocols work.
The World Anti-Doping Company was created by the Worldwide Olympic Committee to primarily assist regulate doping in sports activities. Annually, WADA identifies substances that it believes ought to be prohibited in accordance with its anti-doping code (extra on this later), to stop dishonest and assist maintain athletes protected.
USADA, the anti-doping arm in the US, is one in every of WADA’s signatories and has agreed to uphold its guidelines. So when one of many athletes that USADA is testing (Richardson) returns a constructive check for one in every of WADA’s prohibited substances (marijuana), USADA is required to punish the athlete, per the code.
“WADA units the foundations for the world, which all of us — all nations, together with the US — must observe, whether or not we like the result or not,” USADA’s chief government officer Travis Tygart advised USA TODAY Sports activities. “And even in unhappy and hard circumstances like this one, the place we’d take a unique method.”
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WADA places a substance on its prohibited checklist if it determines that substance meets two of the next three standards:
► It enhances, or may doubtlessly improve, an athlete’s efficiency.
► It may pose a well being danger for athletes.
► It “violates the spirit of sport.”
WADA doesn’t specify which two of these three bins are checked by a specific substance. However within the case of marijuana, a 2011 academic paper co-authored by WADA’s science director presents some rationalization.
Within the paper, the authors write that athletes who smoke marijuana may endanger theselves or others due to “slower response occasions and poor government perform.” They write that marijuana use “just isn’t in line with the athlete as a task mannequin for younger folks around the globe.” They usually point out that the drug may assist athletes focus or relieve the stress of competitors, thereby giving them a leg up on the sphere of play.
“Though rather more scientific data is required … hashish will be efficiency enhancing for some athletes and sports activities disciplines,” they write.
In distinction, a 2017 review of academic literature on the subject discovered that the primary ingredient in marijuana, THC, “doesn’t improve cardio train or energy.”
Tygart mentioned marijuana’s position as a prohibited substance has been debated in anti-doping circles for many years. WADA relaxed its guidelines on no less than one of many drug’s derivatives, cannabidiol, in 2019, however THC stays prohibited in competitors.
Pielke believes WADA’s resolution to control marijuana is overstep, primarily veering into morality. He identified that WADA specifies in its own code that it considers some substances to be prohibited “as a result of they’re continuously abused in society exterior of the context of sport.”
“No matter one thinks about leisure medication, what’s WADA’s enterprise in regulating them, on condition that we’ve got jurisdictions around the globe which have authorized frameworks to do precisely that?” he mentioned.
“Numerous consideration that might be paid to regulating precise doping medication will get spent on regulating these morality medication.”
As giant swaths of the nation have legalized leisure marijuana use over the previous decade, some American sports activities leagues have relaxed their guidelines or testing protocols, together with the NFL and NBA.
Pielke mentioned he would not be stunned if WADA follows go well with sooner or later and removes THC from its prohibited substances checklist. Within the meantime, he mentioned circumstances like Richardson’s – the place an athlete obtained a life-altering sanction for a substance unrelated to her efficiency – are illustrative of the work that also must be performed to enhance anti-doping guidelines.
“For most individuals, anti-doping is one thing that exhibits up each 4 years, with the Olympics, when there is a massive scandal,” Pielke mentioned. “However when you check out it, you understand, behind the curtains, it is not a very fairly image.”
Contributing: Christine Brennan
Contact Tom Schad at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.