Diego Maradona struggled with cocaine addiction in the ’80s Wally Gobetz/Creative Commons

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) – which is responsible for testing athletes for banned substances before and during Rio 2016 – has relaxed its rules on the use of marijuana by Olympians. Introduced in response to increased legalisation worldwide and scant evidence to suggest that the drug has any performance-enhancing effects, the new threshold for the active chemical in marijuana (THC) means athletes will now be allowed to compete even after producing blood samples that contain 150 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood. Although applying only to marijuana usage prior to competing, this represents a tenfold increase from the past limit.

This has led to questions being raised about attitudes towards sporting stars using recreational drugs. Some experts have suggested bans exist purely for public relations reasons and have no roots in concerns about performance-enhancement or the health of the athletes. Indeed, a former advisor to the UK Government, Professor David Nutt, has criticised the wasting of time, expense, and effort on testing for recreational drugs, all of which he argues could be better spent searching for ‘real’ drug cheats.

Historically, however, the relationship between recreational drugs and sport has typically been fractious. Athletes have usually faced tough punishments, though reactions have differed depending often on the sport and drug involved. Indeed, to demonstrate this, Varsity has compiled a list of ten sporting stars whose careers were affected – in a variety of ways – by recreational drug scandals.

Michael Phelps – Swimming – Marijuana

Michael Phelps was embroiled in a drug scandal in February 2009 after photographs surfaced of the most decorated Olympian of all-time inhaling marijuana using a bong. The pictures, which were taken the year before and originated from a party at the University of South Carolina, resulted in the American receiving a three-month suspension from USA Swimming as well as the cancellation of his sponsorship contract with Kelloggs. Subsequently, Phelps has struggled with alcohol too: in 2014, a drink-driving conviction led to Phelps being suspended for six months and a 45-day stint in rehab.

Diego Maradona – Football – Cocaine

Footballing legend Diego Maradona suffered from a cocaine addiction for around 25 years. Supposedly beginning the habit during his time at Barcelona in the early 1980s, the ‘Hand of God’ Argentinian sought professional help following an overdose in 2004 that left him in intensive care. The use of the Class A drug was attributed with causing his loss of form during his career with Napoli, but it was at the 1994 World Cup in the USA where his substance abuse took the biggest toll on his career: a positive test that officially cited ephedrine – though cocaine was often suspected to also have been found – led to Maradona being sent home early from the tournament in disgrace.

Nick Delpopolo – Judo – Marijuana

American judoka Nick Delpopolo was expelled from the London 2012 Olympic Games after testing positive for marijuana. Despite claiming that the ingestion of the drug was accidental – via the consummation of a baked good – Delpopolo received a two-year ban. The case prompted scrutiny of marijuana’s inclusion on WADA’s banned substance list and can be considered a contributing factor to the recent relaxation of approach.

Andre Agassi – Tennis – Crystal Methamphetamine

Andre Agassi, the eight-time Grand Slam winner, escaped a three-month ban for his use of Crystal Methamphetamine in 1997 despite testing positive for the Class A stimulant. Desperate to preserve his reputation, he claimed that the drug has entered his system accidentally, and it was not until three years after his playing career had ended that the American revealed in his autobiography that he had played tennis under its influence. Agassi even faced no retrospective action after the publishing of ‘Open’ – which describes the events in some detail – with Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) declining to re-open a withdrawn case.

Ian Botham – Cricket and Football – Marijuana

Sir Ian Botham, widely regarded as England’s best all-rounder of all-time, was banned from playing cricket by the Test and Country Cricket Board for three months in 1986 after admitting to smoking marijuana in a newspaper column. Botham, who briefly played football for Scunthorpe United, also escaped punishment for marijuana use during the England Test team’s tour to New Zealand in 1983-84. Affectionately known as ‘Beefy’, the former England Captain also saw other aspects of his private life subject to tabloid scrutiny following revelations of an affair, but still managed to maintain a record-setting cricketing career.

Adrian Mutu – Football – Cocaine

In 2014, Adrian Mutu was banned from playing football for seven months and fined £20,000 by the Football Association (FA) after testing positive for cocaine. Mutu, who was signed by Chelsea for £15.8 million, was also released by the club for ‘gross misconduct’ a month after the revelations, tested positive for cocaine in September 2014. An ongoing legal saga finally culminated with the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland ordering Mutu to pay Chelsea €17 million in damages or face a lifetime ban from football. Despite all this controversy, the Romanian striker still had a successful career in Italian and French football and won the Romanian Footballer of the Year Award four times.

Mark Lewis-Francis – Athletics – Marijuana

After finishing second in the 60-metre sprint at the 2005 European Indoor Championships, English sprinter Mark Lewis-Francis was stripped of his silver medal following a positive test for marijuana. Though managing to overturn a supplementary ban on competing in all future Olympics Games, the damage to the reputation of Lewis-Francis – who in 2004 won a gold medal with the 4x100 metre relay team at the Athens Olympics – led to the loss of his Lottery funding. Nonetheless, he continued to self-fund his career, the failure of which was damaged more by injuries than by the drug scandal.

Matt Stevens – Rugby – Cocaine

Bath prop Matt Stevens was banned from rugby for two years after testing positive for cocaine in 2009. Capped 32 times by England and a member of the 2007 World Cup squad, Stevens was forced into quitting his club and spent the duration of his ban working in a café. He has since credited the ban with helping to overcome his cocaine addiction and has returned to playing professional rugby with both Saracens and England.

Kieren Fallon – Horse Racing – Cocaine

Irish Jockey Kieren Fallon was handed an 18-month ban after testing positive for cocaine in 2008, two years after having served a six-month ban for taking the same drug. Upon returning to the sport, the six-time British Champion jockey rode as a freelance rider for multiple trainers: though less successful in major races, he still won many races and finished third in the Jockeys’ championship for 2011. In July 2016, he revealed that he was suffering from depression and announced his retirement from racing.

Ross Rebagliati – Snowboarding – Marijuana

Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati was stripped of his Olympic Gold Medal in 1998 after testing positive for marijuana. However, his appeals led to this decision being overturned on the grounds that marijuana was not listed as a banned substance – Rebagliati had his medal returned and found fame after discussing his ordeal on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He subsequently ended his career to concentrate on business ventures and politics: an outspoken advocate of the medical marijuana, he launched a medical marijuana business called Ross’ Gold in 2013.