The IOC’s highly questionable double standards with drugs

Photo courtesy of LSU Athletics.

It’s 2022, who would have thought that prejudice and double standards could still be alive and prevalent in the Olympics? Recent drug scandals in the Olympic stratosphere have left people questioning the standards set by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Sha’Carri Richardson is an American track and field sprinter who was set to compete in the Tokyo Olympics. After she reportedly tested positive for marijuana in late June, she was suspended for 30 days. Richardson was not named on the Team USA roster, even though she had won the 100-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Richardson announced that her reasoning for using marijuana was because of the loss of her mother, “It sent me into a state of emotional panic,” she told the New York Times.  “I didn’t know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time.”

The track and field star was raised by her grandmother and learned of the death of her mother by a reporter during an interview. Understandably, this is an awful way to learn about the death of a loved one. 

Her use of marijuana, a drug which has been known to relieve anxiety, is completely understandable. Not many people know the pain of losing a loved one, specifically their mother. Even fewer people are told of this devastating news by a stranger. So again, her reasoning for the use of marijuana is something that deserves more understanding. 

Results of the 15-year-old Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva testing positive for a banned heart medication were released in early February. The figure skater was suspended for only one day by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). 

The banned drug in question was called trimetazidine, and it was found in a sample given in December — but the results weren’t flagged until recently, just after she won gold for the Russian Olympic Committee in the team competition. Valieva was allowed to compete despite testing positive for a banned substance. 

Her excuse for testing positively for this drug was that she took her grandfather’s medication, an excuse that many did not believe including former Team USA figure skater Kaitlyn Weaver who said she's "not sure" she "bought" Valieva's excuse.

After the decision was made, Richardson took to social media to question what the difference was between her case and Valieva’s. The IOC has said that Valieva is a minor and the IOC has a different set of rules for minors, making her a “protected person.”  

This is not a fair reaction from the IOC as these two athletes are only six years apart and competing at the same level in their prospective sports. The drugs in question are also severely different. According to The New York Times, “Although marijuana is prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency, there’s no scientific evidence that it can make people bigger, stronger or faster athletes.” Meaning that Richardson’s athletic abilities were not improved by her use of marijuana. 

AP News reports, “Trimetazidine is a metabolic agent that can help prevent angina attacks if used as an ‘add-on treatment,’” according to the European Medicines Agency. It can increase blood flow efficiency and improve endurance — both crucial to any high-end athletic performance.” The effects that this drug would have on a 15-year-old girl are minimal, especially on her athletic performance, but the possibility stands.

I see this as a double standard. There is a major difference between the drugs taken by the athletes, and this should be considered by committees like the IOC. It was unfair to punish Richardson for smoking weed but assign virtually no punishment to Valieva for taking this possibly performance-enhancing drug. 

Was racism a part of this? In my opinion there is a high possibility that this is the case. Another part of me believes this has to do with differences in drug laws in the two countries. Needless to say, there needs to be a more fixed standard within the IOC.

 

agiampag@ramapo.edu