Sha’Carri Richardson Shut Out of Tokyo Olympics
Heading into the Tokyo Olympics, Sha’Carri Richardson was set to become the breakout star from the United States. But after a drug test turned up positive for marijuana, the star sprinter will be sitting at home with a one-month suspension.
The controversy has sparked rage from sports fans and political commentators alike. But many pointed to the 4×100 meter relay, which is set to take place after Richardson’s one-month ban expires, as a hope for the sprinter to play some part in Tokyo.
But, on Tuesday, the USA Track & Field coaches announced they had not selected Richardson for the relay team, even though she is the fastest American sprinter in the 100-meter race.
This led to another wide round of condemnation from fans and commentators who argued that Richardson should be on the team and competing in the relay.
So why is Richardson being left at home? Is she being discriminated against by the USA Track and Field Team?
Outdated Marijuana Laws
Before looking at why USA Track and Field left Richardson out of the relay team, we should discuss why she received the original suspension in the first place.
After Richardson heard the news from a reporter of her biological mother passing away, she said she self-medicated with marijuana to cope with the heartbreak. Shortly thereafter, she blew away her competition in the 100-meter trials to qualify for the Olympics.
Many pointed to the fact that she was in Oregon, where marijuana is legal, when she used the banned substance.
Athletes, fans, and politicians quickly jumped to her defense after the shocking news of the suspension was released.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked US Anti-Doping to reverse Richardson’s suspension and said, “it’s rooted solely in the systemic racism that’s long driven anti-marijuana laws.”
In USA Track and Field’s official statement on Richardson being left out of the Olympic squad, the organization said, “the merit of the World Anti-Doping Agency rules related to THC should be reevaluated.”
While many are frustrated with USA Track and Field bosses, the team had no say over the suspension of Richardson. The World Anti-Doping Agency, run by the International Olympic Committee, sets the rules for anti-doping and every member country has to follow their rules.
But Richardson’s suspension and the resulting firestorm have brought up many questions about the legitimacy of WADA declaring THC and marijuana a banned substance.
Roger Pielke Jr., a University of Colorado sports governance professor, said to USA Today, “Whatever one thinks about recreational drugs, what’s WADA’s business in regulating them, given that we have jurisdictions around the world that have legal frameworks to do exactly that?”
Richardson is not the first athlete to have their career interrupted by a marijuana suspension. Former NFL star Ricky Williams received multiple suspensions for testing positive for marijuana, which derailed his superstar career. After retirement, Williams became an advocate for medical marijuana use, and he said Richardson “has a perfect opportunity with so many people in the world having this conversation. So I think she should be proud of herself.”
The support for Richardson has been so widespread that even White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the anti-doping rules should be reviewed. Earlier this year, the White House fired five staffers for marijuana use.
Despite expressing some support and sympathy, President Joe Biden faced pushback for his statement when he said “rules are rules.”
Richardson Exclusion from the Relay Team
Many American track fans were hoping that Richardson would make an appearance in the 4×100 relay, but those hopes were dashed when USA Track and Field announced their final team.
In an official statement, team officials said, “while our heartfelt understanding lies with Sha’Carri, we must also maintain fairness for all of the athletes who attempted to realize their dreams by securing a place on the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team.”
Richardson was not on the original roster, but the coaches have two roster spots they award to athletes based on the best trial runs. According to the team’s coaches, they had already awarded the spots to sprinters English Gardner, and Aleia Hobbs before Richardson’s positive test and suspension had been made public.
So, despite being the fastest woman in America, the 21-year-old Richardson will be watching at home and preparing for a host of upcoming races and tournaments.
For her part, Richardson has remained positive on her Twitter feed and is still deploying her usual confidence, which made her a fan favorite at the Olympic trials.
In the coming years, Richardson is likely to compete in the Track and Field World Championships in 2022, 2023, and 2025 as well as the 2024 Olympics. In response to the list of upcoming events, Richardson simply tweeted, “2022-2025 undefeated.”
Despite the injustice of her suspension, the sports world is far from seeing the last of Sha’Carri Richardson.