SPORTS

Dopey Decision – Sha’Carri Richardson Misses Olympics

Just a few days after her victory at the U.S. track and field trials in Oregon in June, one of America’s greatest hopes for a gold medal, sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson has been omitted from the United States team for the Olympics.

The reason being that she tested positive for the banned ‘performance enhancing’ substance THC, a constituent of marijuana, following her victory at the trials.

That brought with it a 30-day suspension imposed by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which ruled Richardson out of the 100 meters in Tokyo, but the team announcement means that she will also not be part of the U.S. Women’s 100m Relay team either.

Her Own Fault?

The response to Richardson’s actions have been somewhat mixed with a number of people expressing their belief that this issue was her own fault. The general feeling being that she knew the rules, and still flaunted them at the trials. Therefore, she deserves the punishment.

It was her own fault, after all.

However, in an interview with NBC, Richardson explained that she had used marijuana, which is legal in the state of Oregon (as well as 17 other states across the United States), as a way to help her cope with the shocking death of her biological mother.

This occurred during the Olympic trials and according to the interview, Richardson only found out about her mother’s untimely death during an interview with a reporter.

With that in mind, can you really blame a young athlete for taking a legal substance to help her through what must have been a distressing and hugely traumatic event?

Banned On Race Day Only

While the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) do still list marijuana on its list of banned substances, it is only banned on race day (which runs from 11.59pm the previous day to midnight on race day).

This means athletes are allowed to use the drug, provided it is legal, outside of days where they are competing.

Furthermore, WADA’s penalties for a positive test result for marijuana are less severe. In some cases, such as Richardson’s positive test in June, if an athlete can prove they used the drug for non-athletic purposes, then the minimum penalty is a 30-day suspension, which is what Richardson received.

However, whether marijuana should be on the list of banned substances is something that does need ratification, especially with the drug now being made legal in an increasing number of places across the world.

2011 Study Basis For WADA Decision

WADA’s main claim is that marijuana enhances performance and creates a health risk. That is largely based on a 2011 Sports Medicine study.

The study claimed that taking marijuana means an athlete will have “slower reaction times and poor executive function and decision making,” and that it “decreases coordination”.

That doesn’t really sound like a drug that is going to help a 100m sprinter, where reaction times and co-ordination in particular are critical to success.

The study also recognises that “much additional research is needed to determine the effects of cannabis on athletic performance.”

Interestingly, a much more recent study by the Journal Of Sports Medicine And Physical Fitness, published in April 2021, drew the conclusion that cannabis “does not act as a sport performance enhancing agent as raised by popular beliefs.”

Furthermore the report went on to say that if an athlete wanted to perform to their maximum levels then “cannabis consumption prior to exercise should be avoided.”

It is clear that whether marijuana does have performance-enhancing capabilities is not clear and if anything, the evidence suggests the opposite is true, in which case the penalty imposed on Sha’Carri Richardson looks very harsh.

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