April 3, 2013 12:45:05 am
In 2009,when American swimming legend Michael Phelps was snapped smoking marijuana at a private party by a British tabloid he was banned for three months and denied grants for that period. But this sanction was more a disciplinary measure by USA Swimming,for letting down young swimmers who looked up to him as a role model.
At the London Games,Phelps’ lesser-known teammate in the US Olympic contingent,judoka Nick Delpopolo,was expelled after he tested positive for marijuana. Delpopolo claimed he had inadvertently eaten food laced with the recreational drug,but got no mercy. Why Delpopolo’s indiscretion was dealt with severely while Phelps quickly returned to the sport after a 90-day sanction was because athletes can be banned for up to two years for use of recreational drugs only if they test positive in the course of a competition.
The severity of punishment meted out for recreational drugs indiscretions is a topic of debate with calls from certain quarters,including player unions,to focus on rehabilitation of athletes rather than slapping them with bans. Compared to anabolic steroids,which have proven beneficial for enhancing performance in sport,recreational drugs aren’t known to provide an unfair advantage and hence fall in the ‘social drug category’ rather than ‘systematic doping or cheating’ category. Andre Agassi admitted in his biography in 2009 that he took crystal meth (methamphetamine a stimulant prohibited in competition) in 1997 but had escaped a ban after the ATP bought his explanation that his drink was spiked. Martina Hingis,five-time Grand Slam champ,though had to quit the sport in her second comeback after testing positive for cocaine during Wimbledon.
Closer home,while Beijing Olympics bronze-medallist Vijender Singh is unlikely to be banned despite the police claiming that he used heroin 12 times,albeit out of competition,last year,school-level boxers and weight-lifters were sanctioned after testing positive for marijuana which reduce anxiety in tests conducted during the school games. So the timing of detection is all-important with in-competition lapses landing sportspersons with stern bans,while only the image takes a beating when out of-competition follies are committed.
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Nihal is an assistant editor based in New Delhi.
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