2016 Olympic gold medalist Joseph Schooling has been banned from international competition for the remainder of his mandatory National Service (NS) conscript following his confession to cannabis use in May.
In addition to being an Olympic champion, Schooling is a 3x Olympian and 12x NCAA champion for the Texas Longhorns. Schooling initially received deferment from his national service requirement, but is now currently a member of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
As reported by Channel News Asia earlier today, Schooling admitted to taking cannabis while he was overseas on “short-term disruption” from his service to train for and compete at the Southeast Asian Games. Fellow national swimmer Amanda Lim was investigated as well.
Singapore has extremely strict laws regarding cannabis possession and use. Only recently has medicinal use for only extraordinary circumstances been legalized. Possession or consumption can result in up to 10 years in prison with hefty fines of up to $20,000 attached. In the case of drug trafficking, one may even face the death penalty.
Schooling’s initial test for controlled substances came back negative, but his confession placed him under investigation. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will manage Schooling’s case as he is a full time serviceman. The SAF consequences for those who confess to using drugs but do not necessarily test positive include being on a SAF-supervised urine test regimen and losing disruption privileges.
Schooling has issued a public apology for what he calls “a moment of weakness”:
“I demonstrated bad judgment and I am sorry. I made a mistake and I’m responsible for what I’ve done. I will make amends and right what is wrong. I won’t let you down again.”
Recent marijuana-related doping suspensions have generated controversy around cannabis-related regulations.The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) does not completely ban marijuana use, it only bans its use in competition. Track star Sha’Carri Richardson faced a one-month suspension from this rule after a positive test following the 2021 US track and field trials. The positive test invalidated her trial results, thus disqualifying her from competing at the Olympics.
In swimming, Italian sprinter Andrea Vergani and US National Teamer Tate Jackson have served suspensions for marijuana use. Michael Phelps also served a three-month ban for a photograph of him using a bong. That was not an anti-doping suspension, but a “conduct violation”.
In the cases of Andrea Vergani and Tate Jackson, the suspension came from their respective national anti-doping agencies. The stance on marijuana is softening, as WADA has allowed bans to be reduced to as little as one month. However, organizations like the ISL still maintain a zero-tolerance doping policy, meaning athletes who serve any kind of doping ban would be unable to compete.
Schooling’s ban does not come from WADA or any other anti-doping agency, rather it is a result of protocol set in place by the Singapore Armed Forces.