Hopes still high for medalist
By Sabrina Carinci
Canada's first 1998 Olympic gold medal may be stripped from snowboarder Ross Rebagliati after two separate drug tests revealed he tested positive for marijuana use but experts say not all Olympic athletes are tested for pot.
Having stated he contracted the drug by means of second-hand smoke, Rebagliati hopes to appeal the recommendation to strip him of the medal in the International Olympic Committee's court of arbitration.
Rebagliati became the newest Canadian hero last Saturday when he won the first Olympic gold medal awarded in snowboarding. The future home of the medal however, will depend on the ruling of the arbitration panel.
The IOC court of arbitration will hear from the Canadian Olympic Association, Rebagliati, the IOC and the medical council, said Bob Barney, director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies located at Western, one of only three such centres in the world.
The guidelines set by the IOC outline the substances which are not permitted for use by athletes. Marijuana and alcohol are two substances which are not part of the IOC guidelines and are left to the decision of the individual sport federations to decide whether they should be restricted or not, explained Angela Schneider, a professor at the Olympic Studies Centre and is a consultant to the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports.
The International Ski Federation, of which snowboarding is included, is one of the only federations which has chosen to test for marijuana and states that finding traces of the drug in athletes may be cause for disqualification, she added.
"Most sports don't even test for the drug," said Peter Fowler, medical director at Western's Fowler-Kennedy Sport Medicine Clinic. However, it is possible for the drug to enter one's system through second hand smoke, he said.
"Marijuana is definitely not a performance enhancing drug if anything it impairs performance," Schneider said. The maximum substance level allowed by the ISF is 15 nanograms and 17.5 nanograms were found in Rebagliati's urine samples, she added.
It has been suggested if Rebagliati had directly smoked and inhaled the drug, even two weeks prior to the Olympic games, the levels found in his urine would have been significantly higher, Barney said.
"[Rebagliati] did something wrong, but it would be too draconian to strip him of his medal," Schneider said.
However, Joeseph Tal, owner of The Half Pipe, a snowboarding supply shop in London disagreed. "I think the medal should be stripped from [Rebagliati] because of the Olympic rules if you don't follow the rules, you won't win," he said. Tal said the incident would not affect the sport as a whole.