World Athletics Head Signals Support for Sha'Carri Richardson, Marijuana Rule Change

The president of the international track organization World Athletics voiced support for American sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson, who was barred from participating in the Olympics after a drug test came back positive for marijuana.

Sebastian Coe, head of World Athletics, said he believes the prohibition of marijuana by the World Anti-Doping Agency should be reconsidered.

"Nothing is set in tablets of stone," said Coe. "You adapt and occasionally reassess."

Richardson won the 100 meters at the U.S. trials last month, but did not move on to the Tokyo Games. Coe called her absence "a loss to the competition" and said he did want a review of marijuana as a doping substance to prevent others from being similarly affected.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Sebastian Coe Diamond League
Former British athlete and head of World Athletics Sebastian Coe said he supports Sha'Carri Richardson after she was banned from the Olympics over marijuana usage. In this photo, Netherlands' Sifan Hassan (L) poses with Coe celebrates after winning the 1500m Women and setting a new Meet Record during the Diamond League athletics meeting on June 10, 2021 at the Asics Firenze Marathon Luigi-Ridolfi stadium in Florence. Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

Coe was at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon, when Richardson won the 100 in 10.86 seconds. Her flamboyant performance set up a likely duel with two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica in one of track's most anticipated events.

Within days, Richardson's positive test for a chemical found in marijuana was revealed in a sample taken at the trials, nullifying her result and keeping from earning her qualifying spot in the Olympic race.

Richardson said she had smoked marijuana to help cope with her mother's recent death and accepted a 30-day ban. That ban expired on Tuesday, so she could have competed in the 4x100 relay but she wasn't selected by the U.S. team.

"I am sorry for her that we have lost an outstanding talent," Coe said three days before the start of the track and field program at the Tokyo Games.

Coe, a two-time Olympic champion in the 1,500, acknowledged that current anti-doping rules were applied correctly in her case.

"I don't want to sound like Joe Biden," Coe said, referring to the American president's similarly sympathetic yet realistic comments about Richardson, "but the rules are the rules and that is the way they have been interpreted."

After the 2012 London Olympics, the threshold for what constitutes a positive test for marijuana was relaxed in an attempt to ensure in-competition use is detected and not smoking at least days ahead of competition.

The WADA rule can be changed again.

"It's not an unreasonable moment to have a review of it," Coe said. "The AIU will look at this in the light of current circumstances."

WADA updates the prohibited list each year and change could be in place for the 2022 season. That includes a return to Hayward Field in Eugene for the track world championships — the first to be held in the United States and one in which Richardson will be among the favorites.

"She," Coe said, "will bounce back."

Sha'Carri Richardson marijuana ban
Only weeks before the start of the Olympics, the ban of American sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson for a positive marijuana test fueled a debate about whether that drug should be forbidden anymore. In this June 19, 2021, photo, Richardson celebrates after winning the first heat of the semis finals in women's 100-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in Eugene, Ore. Ashley Landis, File/AP Photo