Swimmer Joseph Schooling, the only Olympic gold medalist from Singapore, has been banned from competition and training after admitting that he used cannabis while out of the country.
Known as Singapore’s “Golden Boy,” Schooling is the island nation’s most revered athlete. He took the international swimming world by storm in 2016 when he won the men’s 100-meter butterfly race at the Summer Games in Rio, beating his childhood idol Michael Phelps and bringing home the nation’s first Olympic gold medal ever. He lost favor with many fans, however, when he placed last in the 100-meter butterfly heat in 2021 and failed to qualify for the semifinals of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Schooling, who also swam for the University of Texas at Austin, is currently serving in the military under Singapore’s mandatory service law. He and another Singaporean swimmer, Amanda Lim, were investigated by the Southeast Asian nation’s drug enforcement agency, according to Sport Singapore, the country’s national sports body. It is not clear why the investigation was initiated.
Although a urinalysis screening was negative, Schooling admitted to using cannabis while he was out of the country. In May, he competed at the Southeast Asian Games in Vietnam, winning two gold medals and one bronze.
After admitting his cannabis use while abroad, Schooling was effectively suspended from competitive swimming. He will no longer be given leave to train and compete while he serves in the military, according to the Singapore Defense Ministry. He will also face mandatory urine screenings for drugs for six months.
“I am sorry that my actions have caused hurt to everyone around me, especially to my family and the young fans who look up to me. I gave in to a moment of weakness after going through a very tough period of my life,”
At 27 years old, Schooling’s ban on competition and training comes at a time when many professional swimmers are at the peak of their careers. He is likely to miss several important swim meets, including the 2023 Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia.
Schooling Affected by Singapore’s Strict Anti-Drug Laws
Singapore’s drug prohibition laws are among the world’s strictest. Citizens who use drugs are punished, often severely, even if their consumption occurred in a legal jurisdiction abroad. Those charged with cannabis consumption face up to 10 years in prison and a substantial fine. Possession of more than 1.1 pounds of marijuana or 0.5 ounces of heroin can subject offenders to death by hanging. Military conscripts who test positive in drug screenings can be sentenced to nine months in military detention.
“Drugs have no place in our society and we take a zero-tolerance stance towards illegal drug use,” said Singapore Swimming Association President Mark Chay, according to local media reports. “This message, along with the expectations for our national athletes to uphold the highest standards of conduct, will be strongly reinforced amongst our community through our national coaches and affiliates.”
Schooling’s prohibition from training and competition was put in place under a protocol established by the Singapore Armed Forces, the city-state’s military. He was not sanctioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) or other sports governing authorities for his cannabis use.
WADA does not completely ban the use of cannabis, it only bans the use of marijuana in competition. Last year, American star sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson served a one-month suspension after a positive test following the 2021 U.S. track and field trials. The positive test invalidated her trial results and disqualified her from competing at the Summer Olympics, igniting a controversy over the use of cannabis in sports.