USA Swimming suspended Olympic superstar Michael Phelps from competition for three months on Thursday, a “reprimand” after a published photograph appeared to show him smoking marijuana.
The national governing body of the sport stressed that the punishment was not for a doping violation, but said they wanted to send a “strong message” to Phelps about his status as a role model for young people.
“USA Swimming has reprimanded Michael Phelps under its Code of Conduct by withdrawing financial support and the eligibility to compete for a period of three months effective today, February 5,” a statement from USA Swimming said. “This is not a situation where any anti-doping rule was violated, but we decided to send a strong message to Michael because he disappointed so many people, particularly the hundreds of thousands of USA Swimming member kids who look up to him as a role model and a hero.”
Phelps had been expected to return to competition for the first time since the Olympics at a USA Swimming Grand Prix meeting in Austin, Texas, early next month.
Now he won’t be able to race until May. That would still allow him to compete at the US National Championships in Indianapolis in July, the qualifying meet for the World Championships in Rome from July 18 to Aug. 2.
Any plans Phelps had for the post-Olympic season were plunged into disarray when Britain’s News of the World published the photo in which Phelps appeared to be taking a bong hit.
The newspaper said it was taken at a university party in South Carolina last November.
Phelps suffered more fallout on Thursday, when US food company Kellogg’s said it would not renew its deal with the Olympian when it expires at the end of next month, though other sponsors, including Speedo and watchmaker Omega, have stood by him.