First it was Jan Ullrich getting popped for ecstasy. Then Gilberto Simoni was nailed for cocaine. Next, Tom Boonen tests positive for cocaine, as well. Now uber-swimming phenomenon, Michael Phelps, is taking bong hits. Of course, who could forget Ross Regabliati, the Canadian snowboarder who lost his gold medal he won in the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games after testing positive for marijuana.
Jan, Gilberto and Tom paid a pretty heavy price for their recreational drug use. Jan was suspended for six months, Gilberto was booted from a Giro he could have won and Boonen lost his ride at the Tour where he was a heavy favorite to take his second consecutive green(sprinter's) jersey. Their suspensions definitely affected their careers. I could be argued, that in the counter-culture, non-conformist world of snowboarding, Ross's dalliance may have been more of a positive for his aspirations. After all he did get his medal back. Maybe.
But, what is going to happen to Michael Phelps? He will probably lose a few endorsements, but will swimming's governing body feel a need to take action?
Yes, there are rules governing the use of recreational drugs in most sports, but is this a good thing? It can easily be argued that since most, if not all, recreational drug use is illegal there should be some sort of penalty. The penalty can take several forms. A national anti-doping agency can impose a suspension or ban. A jurisdictional body can hand down a fine or prison sentence.
What is not clear is if recreational drugs can have a positive affect on an athlete's performance. Yes, as mentioned above, an athlete is probably breaking the law by using them, but did they gain an advantage over their competition? Over fifty years ago, the drug of choice for cyclists were amphetamines. Clearly, this recreational drug could increase performance.
Much like the TV show Lost I am asking a lot more questions than providing answers. In Michael Phelps' case regardless of what the law and USA Swimming decide to do, he will lose some $$$. That seems fair to me. I can't tell him how to behave, but if he behaves in a manner which doesn't please his sponsors then he will have to answer to those sponsors.
In cycling, there appears to be a policy of zero tolerance to drug use of any kind. Not surprisingly, cycling is in the fight of it's life to try to keep and attract sponsors. Boyz will be boyz, but they better understand that everyone is watching.
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