August 31, 2022
SINGAPORE – Former Olympic champion Joseph Schooling has confessed to consuming cannabis while he was on short-term disruption from full-time national service (NS) in May.
The break was to allow the swimmer, who enlisted in January. to train and participate in the May 12-23 SEA Games in Hanoi, where he won two golds and a bronze.
In a statement on Tuesday (Aug 30), national sports body Sport Singapore revealed that the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) had investigated Schooling, 27, and fellow national swimmer Amanda Lim, 29, for the consumption of cannabis.
Lim, who won a silver in the women’s 50m freestyle and was part of the gold-winning women’s 4x100m freestyle quartet in Vietnam, was subsequently issued a stern warning by the CNB under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Schooling, whose urine tests for controlled drugs returned negative, was referred to the Ministry of Defence as he is currently undergoing national service.
Mindef has placed him on an SAF-supervised urine test regime as part of the treatment and rehabilitation process. He was also issued a formal letter of warning.
In a separate statement, Mindef noted that “given his abuse of disruption privileges”, Schooling would no longer be eligible for leave or disruption to train or compete while in NS. This means he will likely miss next year’s SEA Games in Cambodia as well as the Asian Games in Hangzhou, China.
The ministry added that the Singapore Armed Forces maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy towards drug abuse. Service personnel who test positive for drug abuse will be charged and sentenced to SAF detention barracks.
Those who are suspected of abusing drugs will be placed on an SAF-supervised urine test regime.
SportSG reiterated a similar stance, noting that all Team Singapore athletes are expected to uphold the highest standards of conduct and that unlawful or unsportsmanlike conduct will not be condoned.
Lim and Schooling, as national athletes, receive support – both financial and in other areas – from SportSG.
SportSG said it intends to review the circumstances behind the incident, and determine the appropriate steps to be taken.
The Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) and the Singapore National Olympic Council will also be reviewing what steps to take.
SSA president Mark Chay expressed disappointment at the pair’s actions and added: “Drugs have no place in our society and we take a zero-tolerance stance towards illegal drug use. 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.”
It is an offence to consume drugs in Singapore and in Vietnam.
In Singapore, those found guilty of taking a controlled drug such as methamphetamine or “Ice”, heroin and cannabis can be jailed for between one and 10 years, or fined an amount not exceeding $20,000, or both.
Those found to have consumed controlled drugs outside Singapore will also be liable for the drug consumption offence.
Schooling wrote himself into sporting folklore when he claimed Singapore’s first Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games, beating American legend Michael Phelps in the 100m butterfly final. His timing of 50.39s is still a national record.
He received a hero’s welcome when he returned to Singapore, with thousands thronging the streets to hail him during a bus-top parade.
Sponsors lined up to court him, with brands such as fashion label Hugo Boss, probiotic drink Yakult and imaging and optical products manufacturer Canon inking deals with the swimmer.
His three-year deal with DBS Bank netted him a seven-figure sum, which put him in a select group of local athletes who have crossed the million-dollar mark in career earnings, including footballer Fandi Ahmad, golfer Mardan Mamat, and table tennis players Li Jiawei and Feng Tianwei.
But Schooling has yet to replicate the highs of 2016. In Rio, his winning time was 50.39 seconds. His best time since then was the 50.83 he clocked at the World Championships in July 2017.
At the Tokyo Olympics in August last year, he was unable to defend his 100m fly title, failing to even advance out of the heats. He eventually finished 44th in the field of 55.
He enlisted for NS in January though he was still able to race at the Singapore National Age Group Championships and the SEA Games – his most recent competitive outing.
Competing in four events, down from the six he entered at the last Games in 2019, he still managed to pick up two golds and a bronze in Hanoi.
There was also heartbreak at home with the death of his beloved father Colin in November. The senior Schooling, who had been instrumental in his son’s success, died at 73 following a battle with liver cancer.