Singapore’s first Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling has been suspended from competing in swimming competitions after he admitted to consuming cannabis overseas.
“I demonstrated bad judgement and I am sorry,” he said.
The 27-year-old became a local sporting hero when he won the country’s first Olympic gold at the 2016 Rio Games. But the scandal has now divided opinion in a country known for its strict drug laws.
Many expressed sympathy for the national swimmer, noting that his father had died last November and he was facing immense pressure as an athlete.
“Every young person makes mistakes,” one person commented on an article about the case. Another wrote: “This is a nothingburger. Many have tried it overseas.”
However, there were also those who condemned Mr Schooling.
“It is totally unacceptable as a top sportsman who is supposed to be a national role model,” a Facebook commenter said.
Singapore regulates the consumption of controlled drugs – such as cannabis – not only within the country, but outside of it as well. Citizens or permanent residents who fail urine tests for illegal drugs on entering the country face up to 10 years in prison and a S$20,000 ($14,300 ; £12,300) fine.
It also has a mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking, which has become increasingly controversial as more young Singaporeans begin to speak up against capital punishment.
In a statement, Mr Schooling apologised that his actions caused hurt to his family and young fans who looked up to him.
“I gave in to a moment of weakness after going through a very tough period of my life,” he said.
Another national swimmer, 29-year-old Amanda Lim, also admitted to consuming cannabis. She was given a warning by the Central Narcotics Bureau after an investigation.
“There is no excuse, and I will take the warning given to me seriously and reflect on my mistakes,” she said in a statement.
Singapore’s Ministry of Defence said on Tuesday that Mr Schooling passed the urine drug tests, but the 27-year-old confessed that he consumed cannabis while he was on a break from his military service to train and participate in the Southeast Asian Games in Hanoi, Vietnam in May.
Given the “abuse of disruption privileges”, Mr Schooling will no longer be able to take leave or disrupt his military service to train or compete, the ministry said.
He will also be put on a supervised urine test regime for six months and could be sentenced to up to nine months’ detention in military detention barracks if he tests positive.
All male Singaporean citizens and permanent residents have to serve about two years of full-time military service, usually starting when they are 18, unless they are exempted.
The start date for Mr Schooling’s military service was deferred multiple times so he could compete in international competitions, before he enlisted in January this year.