Anti-doping agencies hit back at claims Sha’Carri Richardson suspension is racist

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said suspension was racist and not based on science

Justin Vallejo
New York
Monday 12 July 2021 16:40
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US sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson address drug test that got her dropped from Olympic squad
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Agencies dedicated to keeping drugs out of the Olympics rejected claims by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that the suspension of Sha’Carri Richardson was racist and not based on science.

Both the World Anti-Doping Agency and the US Anti-Doping Agency wrote to the congresswoman to dispute that prohibition of cannabis was antiquated, not performance-enhancing, and a burden to civil liberties, while also arguing over who is responsible for the policies.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez wrote to both bodies to reconsider the suspension of Ms Richardson, 21, for testing positive for marijuana after winning the 100-metre women’s race at the trials for the Tokyo Olympic Games.

While Ms Richardson took responsibility for taking the banned substance and accepted the 30-day suspension, Ms Ocasio-Cortez blamed "racist and colonial policy".

"Their decision lacks any scientific basis. It’s rooted solely in the systemic racism that’s long driven anti-marijuana laws," Ms Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet.

USADA CEO Travis Tygart wrote that Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s argument that marijuana has no performance-enhancing benefit in sport is not universally accepted by either the athlete community or anti-doping scientists.

"It has been reported in scientific literature and anecdotally by athletes that marijuana can decrease anxiety, fear, depression and tension thereby allowing athletes to better perform under pressure and alleviating stress experienced immediately before and during competition," Mr Tygart wrote.

Ms Richardson revealed on NBC’s Today show that she took marijuana after her mother’s death days before the trials sent her into “a state of emotional panic”.

That was despite "multiple in-person education sessions" warning her of the consequences of using marijuana during a competition, according to Mr Tygart.

While Mr Tygart praised Ms Richardson for taking responsibility, he shifted blame for the policies leading to her suspension to the USADA’s global counterpart.

He wrote that the US Anti-Doping Agency advocated for more "flexible and fair" rules to address the use of marijuana, and in an earlier statement said they "might take a different approach if the choice was ours to make".

World Anti-Doping Agency president Witold Banka wrote in his response to Ms Ocasio-Cortez that the argument that US anti-doping stakeholders are "bound by antiquated thinking" was not supported by the facts.

"On the contrary," he said. “The US has been one of the most vocal and strong advocates for including cannabinoids on the Prohibited List."

"The meeting minutes and written submissions received from the US over nearly two decades, in particular from USADA, have consistently advocated for cannabinoids to be included on the Prohibited List," he added.

He said the US has had more representatives on the WADA executive committee in the seven-year history of the body, while it has also senior government officials on its Foundation Board, along with Colombia, Honduras and Paraguay representing the Americas.

Ms Ocasio-Cortez said that the ruling to suspend Ms Richardson was "deeply troubling" and that the International Olympic Committee should reconsider the suspension for any athletes penalised for cannabis use.

This year, that included swimmer Tate Jackson and sprinter Kahmari Montgomery, who received similar suspensions for marijuana use.

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