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Point of View: Not a Fan of Olympic Ban

Wed, 07/21/2021 - 16:28

Bernie Sanders in a recent interview with Maureen Dowd allowed as how he had a problem with the U.S. Olympic Committee’s having banned Sha’Carri Richardson from competing in Tokyo, where she was expected to win a gold in the 100-meter dash, owing to the fact that she had tested positive for marijuana.

It smacked, said Sanders, of the war on drugs, which, in marijuana’s case, has, even at this late date, relied upon anecdotal rather than scientific evidence. Indeed, a headline on The Times’s sports pages this week said “Research Does Not Support the Idea That Marijuana Is Performance-Enhancing.”

Neither, apparently, does the research support the idea that marijuana is performance-diminishing. The fact is, because the question has been so cursorily investigated over the years — you’d really think we’d know by now — the jury is still out.

I think, in general, we can agree that marijuana tends to slow you down rather than speed you up, which renders the decision to ban a sprinter like Ms. Richardson from Olympic competition on the grounds that her performance will be enhanced utterly absurd.

Unless they’re “1,000-percent sure,” bodies that govern sports ought not to render decisions that could destroy athletes’ careers, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s senior vice president for athletic health and performance, Jeff Novitsky, was quoted as saying. Hear, hear.

In some sports — those requiring “greater concentration” — marijuana may enhance performance, an interviewee ventured, though he attributed that idea not to a scientific study, but rather to some tennis players “just talking.”

Which reminded me of a platform tennis match I played in the late 1970s. The day after, I mailed my résumé off to High Times, asking if they needed a sportswriter. (As I recall, some interest was shown, but not enough to scrape me off the hull of East Hampton.) 

Obviously, it was a memorable match, but not so much because my athletic performance was markedly enhanced, nor because it noticeably suffered, but because, in my suspended state, with my inner flagellant rendered silent for once, I didn’t care whether I won or lost. Though such equanimity, if you will, hardly seems a recipe for an Olympic victory, or for a victory at any level really.

But it would be nice to know to what extent and in what ways marijuana can affect performance. I can imagine, based on my experience, that it might be salutary when it comes to such sports as tennis, bowling, golf, or curling, inasmuch as it tends to put you at one remove and thus helps to keep your eyes on the ball, or the pins, or the button. 

And if that were to turn out to be the case, couldn’t it be argued that rather than artificially boosting performance, marijuana use, by tempering psychological damage, simply renders one whole — just as rehabbing an inflamed joint would.

It’s legal in New York and many states now, we can grow it, but given the Olympic Committee’s decision regarding Sha’Carri Richardson, you wouldn’t know it.


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