Japanese national team suspends 2 snowboarders for using marijuana
Two prominent Japanese snowboarders have been banned indefinitely from international competition by the Ski Association of Japan (SAJ) after it was discovered they used marijuana during a snowboarding tour through the United States in December.
The announcement, which was made Wednesday, didn’t name the two snowboarders as they were minors. The Ski Association of Japan said traces of marijuana were found in the hair follicles of the offending snowboarders.
Though one of the two suspended snowboarders has denied smoking marijuana, the other admitted to using it while at a party in Colorado, where it has been recreationally legal since 2012 for users above the age of 21.
While a teenager smoking weed might not seem like a huge deal to American readers, cannabis is far less culturally accepted in Japan, and the announcement of the suspensions made an extreme impact. The SAJ announced the riders could ultimately be held off the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic team roster for their positive tests, and their suspensions led to the immediate resignation of the SAJ’s former snowboarding chief, Fumikazu Hagiwara.
“This will not have a good impact on the Rio, Pyeongchang or Tokyo Olympics,” current SAJ director Toshimasa Furukawa told the Japan Times. “If they undergo rehabilitation, there is a chance for them [to compete in Pyeongchang]. But it is impossible to say now whether they have enough time.”
Furukawa also noted that the markedly strict SAJ already felt disgraced at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics when snowboarder Kazuhiro Kokubo arrived with his hair in dreadlocks dressed in a baggy uniform.
But in the United States, the suspended duo have at least one supporter in snowboarding icon and two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who took to Instagram to call the snowboarders suspension “harsh.”
A photo posted by Shaun White (@shaunwhite) on Apr 28, 2016 at 11:02am PDT
White wasn’t the only snowboarder sympathetic to their plight: Ross Rebagliati, the first snowboarder to ever win an Olympic gold medal as well as the face of marijuana in competitive snowboarding, also felt for the duo.
“I know that a lot of the Japanese pros don’t live in Japan, they live abroad because they follow the talent and ride where everyone else rides, whether that’s in British Columbia or Colorado,” the 44-year-old Rebagliati told GrindTV. “So they’ve probably been exposed to western and cannabis culture and probably saw how it was working for other snowboarders and decided to do it.”
On top of being the first snowboarder to ever win Olympic gold, Rebagliati was also the first snowboarder to ever be stripped of his gold medal, after he was found to have THC (the active component of marijuana) in his system. While his gold medal was eventually reinstated because THC wasn’t listed on the banned substance list by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the time of his victory, WADA added it to the banned substance list shortly thereafter.
Rebagliati (above) has become an advocate for the legalization of marijuana in his days since competitive snowboarding. Photo: Courtesy of Ross Rebagliati
“It’s just unfortunate that the rules are as they are, because there’s no proven reason why marijuana should be against the rules,” Rebagliati said. “The International Olympic Committee just made it against the rules because of me. It’s unfortunate, because it sounds like the kid just got caught having a puff, and it’s too bad that it makes the news like this. In Japan, especially, it will be bad news for him because of their opinions on cannabis over there. He’ll have a lot of issues with moving forward with his life in Japan after this because it’s a big no-no there.”
While Rebagliati currently works on advocating for the legalization of marijuana, he says that the suspension should serve as a warning to any current athletes considering smoking pot.
“Unfortunately, it’s a substance that’s on the list of banned substances,” said Rebagliati. “It’s pretty clear what the rules are in that regard. Athletes should be aware by now that it’s on the list of banned substances. I know if I was going to the Olympics right now I wouldn’t be touching anything banned.”
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