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Play Ball: Marijuana and Soccer

Besides rugby’s unique association with alcohol, sports and drugs don’t normally mix. That said, the world’s most popular sport and one of the world’s most popular drugs — soccer and cannabis — will inevitably overlap on more than one occasion. People try to keep it hidden; it’s technically doping for the players subject to testing and it’s mostly illegal for fans around the world. Despite the conflict, weed is all over the place.

You could even say the two worlds work together; both have strong counterculture movements tied to them. Are flares the only illegal thing supporters light up the stadium? The smell of pyrotechnics will certainly cover up the ganja.

This past week, Manchester police, instead paying for disposal, donated confiscated grow lights to a soccer pitch in Rochdale, England. Groundskeepers say the lamps will improve turf around the goals, and saved Rochdale AFC around $30,000. We can only guess if players stepped on, and smoked, different grasses grown by the same lamps.

Because of the taboo against it, marijuana use in professional sports is well-covered up, but every once in a while a coach, or a manager gets caught, or a player admits he has a problem. People do what they want, and a lot of people think it doesn’t affect physical performance. It’s easier to hush a potential scandal instead of destroying someone’s career for smoking a largely innocuous plant; I mean come on, who cares?

It might even be beneficial. Research in the American Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that cannabis can help performance on the field, normally frowned upon even by those who smoke. They found that “cannabinoids play a major role in the extinction of fear memories by interfering with learned aversive behaviors. Athletes who experienced traumatic events in their career could benefit from such an effect.” Stoners are known to light up to help them get things done, apparently some athletes as well. “Health professionals have encountered athletes including gymnasts, divers, football players and basketball players who claim smoking cannabis before play helps them focus better.”

Pot mellows you out, and in June 2004, Portuguese police used this to their advantage. An epic battle was slated to take place between the English and the French in Lisbon, Portugal. It was the opening round of the Euro 2004 soccer tournament, and the streets were bound to get ugly no matter the outcome, but the cops had a trick up their sleeve. They publicly announced to British newspaper, The Guardian, that they wouldn’t pursue marijuana: “If you are quietly smoking and a police officer is 10 meters away, what’s the big risk in your behavior? I’m not going to tap you on the shoulder and ask ‘What are you smoking?’ if you are posing no menace to others. Our priority is alcohol.”

Even after England’s defeat, the streets were relatively peaceful and no arrests were made during the game. Looks like the two aren’t oil and water; cannabis and soccer have more in common than you thought.

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