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OLYMPICS CARE MORE ABOUT WEED THAN THE CORONAVIRUS
Prioritizing archaic rules over Japanese lives, the IOC is in lockstep with anti-doping officials who’ve banned Sha’Carri Richardson from the Games for a positive test — as Tokyo braces for the worst
Scary, isn’t it, that marijuana is a bigger evil at the Olympic governance level than the Delta variant of the coronavirus. None of these autocrats are fazed about staging the Tokyo Games in three weeks, despite the rise of new cases in a country woefully under-vaccinated. Nor are they concerned about destructive mudslides in Japan, one that left dozens missing, or the threat of an earthquake in a nation still reeling from a tsunami that killed thousands.
What possibly could go wrong when 78,000 people are beginning to arrive, including 11,000 athletes from 200-plus countries? ‘‘Barring Armageddon that we can’t see or anticipate, these things are a go,’’ said Richard Pound, the most vocal and tenured of International Olympic Committee members. With convenient disregard for danger, the IOC and NBC — partners in multi-billion-dollar crime — don’t want to grasp or acknowledge that Armageddon could happen if lives are lost amid their money grab. They only see what they want to see, as lost fortunes from last summer’s postponement are recouped.
Yet when American sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson used marijuana to cope with the sudden news of her biological mother’s death — doing so in Oregon, where recreational weed is legal — the Olympic system decided she was a menace to the Summer Games. A positive test, just after her electric 100-meters victory at the U.S. track and field trials, disqualified her from the event in Tokyo and a likely star turn that would have benefited, well, the IOC and NBC. Marijuana continues to be banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which considers the drug a performance-enhancer even as it gains widespread acceptance and a prominent sports league such as the NBA hasn’t tested for it in two years. Because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency cedes to WADA, Richardson is nada.
‘‘I apologize for the fact that I didn't know how to control my emotions or deal with my emotions during that time,’’ she said on NBC’s ‘‘Today’’ show. ‘‘We all have our different struggles, we all have our different things we deal with, but to put on a face and have to go out in front of the world and put on a face and hide my pain. ... I know that I can’t hide myself, so at least in some way I was just trying to hide my pain. Who am I to tell you how to cope when you're dealing with a pain or you're dealing with a struggle that you've never experienced before or that you never thought you'd have to deal with. Who am I to tell you how to cope? Who am I to tell you you're wrong for hurting?"
It was her indirect way of criticizing international and U.S. officials, saying she knew the archaic rules but was too overwhelmed to obey them. Her grief has won the sympathy of a country that doesn’t trust the Olympic movement, for good reason, and wonders why WADA is stuck in the last century on the marijuana issue. I can walk down a street in Los Angeles and see a long line of tokers waiting outside a MedMen store, where purchases are placed in little red bags like those from jewelry stores, near an elementary school and an ice-cream shop with parents and kids. Hell, Kevin Durant has a large Rick James tattoo on his leg, and it isn’t because he likes the song ‘‘Super Freak.’’ This is the evolution of society in 2021, but WADA, with origins in Switzerland (where the IOC is headquartered), devises doping rules based on its sheltered views.
Attention old, stuffy men: Cannabis shouldn’t be treated on the same level of competitive deceit as steroids and masking agents. Perhaps a retreat in Amsterdam should be arranged. Loosen up, coots.
Just recently, WADA classified THC as a ‘‘Substance of Abuse’’ BECAUSE widespread use is more commonly accepted. Oddly, marijuana is included on the organization’s Prohibited List not only as a performance-enhancer but because ‘‘it poses a health risk to athletes’’ and ‘‘violates the spirit of sport.’’ According to WADA rules, marijuana ‘‘meets at least two’’ of those criteria. WTF, WADA? Regular weed use in ample quantities would pose a health risk, yes. But if anything, marijuana could be considered performance-stifling, creating a careless, dazed mood not conducive to winning gold medals in sprints. As for ‘‘violating the spirit of sport,’’ what exactly does that mean?
If Richardson had fulfilled expectations and won in Tokyo, becoming the first U.S. woman since Gail Devers in 1996 to win the 100, she’d have become a superstar and commercial hit. She would have been must-watch TV — with her multi-colored hair, kiss-blowing and bold proclamations, such as ‘‘I am who I say I am!’’ and ‘‘Talent is talent. If you got it, you go fast.’’ Without Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt and longstanding Olympic franchises, the Summer Games needs starpower. Can you name a big ticket beyond Simone Biles and Katie Ledecky? There’s a chance Richardson could be named to a relay team, but it will require jumping through political hoops for an afterthought event.
‘‘This is just one Games. I'm 21, I'm very young,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘I have plenty of Games left in me to compete in and I have plenty of talent that backs me up, because everything I do comes from me naturally. No steroid, no anything. This incident was about marijuana, so after my sanction is up, I'll be back and able to compete. And every single time I step on the track, I'll be ready for whatever anti-doping agency to come and get what it is they need."
It remains to be seen how many Americans watch the Tokyo Games. People are outdoors this summer, tired of being cooped up, and an Olympiad halfway around the world isn’t appointment TV. The coronavirus also casts a fateful picture over venues that only will have Japanese spectators, further darkening an event that won’t remotely resemble the usual convivial global festival. If anyone in charge was thinking beyond financial considerations, the Games would be canceled; already, three visiting Olympians have tested positive for the coronavirus after landing in Japan. But the IOC is dependent on money from NBCUniversal, which extended its Olympics media rights deal through 2032 with a $7.5 billion commitment. The network needs the infusion too, and a chance to promote streaming service Peacock, which explains why NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell pooh-poohs the coronavirus and other major Games concerns.
‘‘I think every Olympics has an issue that people worry about coming into the Olympics,” Shell said. ‘‘I lived in London (site of the 2012 Games), and everybody was worried about the traffic. And last time it was Zika, and you know, once the opening ceremony happens, everybody forgets all that and enjoys the 17 days. And I think this is going to be the same thing.”
In his protective corporate cocoon, he’s actually comparing traffic to the coronavirus? It’s beyond arrogant of Shell to assume the Japanese people suddenly will forget health risks because competitions are taking place. All he cares about are the $2 billion in ads that NBC says it has booked. ‘‘This is far and away the biggest media event of the year,’’ said NBC Sports advertising executive Dan Lovinger. ‘‘There’s nothing like it; it’s the biggest reach vehicle in television.”
Meanwhile, reach vehicle aside, a woman’s life dreams are dashed, and millions in the host country are frightened about what’s about to happen. Maybe a graffiti artist can sneak into town and draw a marijuana leaf inside the five-ringed Olympic emblem, just to remind the money men of their twisted priorities.
Jay Mariotti, called ‘‘the most impacting Chicago sportswriter of the past quarter-century,’’ writes sports columns for Substack and a Wednesday media column for Barrett Sports Media while appearing on some of the 1,678,498 podcasts in production today. He’s an accomplished columnist, TV panelist and radio talk host. Living in Los Angeles, he gravitated by osmosis to film projects. Compensation for this column is donated to the Chicago Sun-Times Charity Trust.