Volume 94, Issue 26

Tuesday, October 17, 2000


Testing the limits of doping in sport

Marijuana looks gray in the eyes of sport

Marijuana looks gray in the eyes of sport

Graphic by Phil Arnold

By Molly Duignan
Gazette Staff

Marijuana was thrust into the spotlight at the 1998 Nagano Olympics when Canadian Olympian and gold medal winner, Ross Rebagliati tested positive for the drug.

Yet, where does marijuana fit into the spectrum of banned or restricted substances in sport? Rebagliati fought his case and won, but the fate of marijuana's status in sport is still up in the air and little has been set in stone since.

Antonio Cogliano, staff physician and co-ordinator of medical coverage and varsity athletics at Western, said there is a lot of confusion surrounding whether or not marijuana is a banned substance in sport or not.

"I've been told by the Canadian Intercollegiate Athletics Union that a positive test for marijuana would be dealt with as a banned substance would," Cogliano said. Marijuana is not however, specifically considered as banned substance in the CIAU handbook given to all varsity athletes at Western, so the regulations surrounding marijuana are a grey area.

"A substance like marijuana is sport specific. I know in swimming, for example, there is zero tolerance. If you're caught, you're banned," he explained.

Cogliano said the major problem with banned substances in general is there is not enough money in the CIAU to make any significant changes, because there is not enough money for adequate testing. "The fact that testing doesn't occur often enough doesn't help [fight drug use]," Cogliano stated.

In his five years coaching soccer at Western, head coach Rock Bassacco said no one on his team has been tested as yet, although Western holds the title of defending national champions. "We've never had to address the subject of drug use with our team, it has never been a known problem," Bassacco said.

"Athletes need to understand what substances are banned and know that taking [banned substances] can jeopardize their eligibility," he stated. Bassacco explained players must always be aware of the possibility of being tested and therefore be responsible for their actions.

"Educating athletes about banned substances is helpful, but in the end it is fines and punishments that deter people from taking these drugs," he said. Cogliano also identified high school as a precursor to potential problems with drug use among athletes. "At high school, marijuana is a big problem and there is no testing at that level – to the point where people think it is okay to take things, especially as precursors to steroids," he explained.

Marijuana, as well as other drugs, is mostly a concern because of the potential to lead to stronger, more serious drugs, such as cocaine or steroids, Cogliano added.

Lenora Parker, the drug free sport program manager for the Canadian Centre for Ethics and Sport, dismissed the notion of marijuana as questionable with regard to its status as banned or restricted. "Marijuana falls into the category of a restricted substance," she said. This means it can be used under certain conditions, she explained.

"Marijuana use in sports is such a grey area because it is not so much a sport enhancing product. It has to do more with the social ramifications associated with using an illegal drug," Cogliano stated. "Because there are legal issues surrounding marijuana, athletes should treat it as banned. Regardless of being banned, if you are tested and caught for doing it, there can be a lot of social implications," he said.

"Athletes are responsible for thinking about what they do. Being caught would put an athlete on a black list, regardless of the punishment they receive, if any," Cogliano said.

"Drug use does seem to be on the rise. The concern has always been there, but public attention seems to shift," he stated. The good thing about publicity, Cogliano said, is that it leads to change in policy.

To Contact The Campus and Culture Department:

Copyright The Gazette 2000