Michael Phelps said yesterday that the decision by USA Swimming to suspend him for three months is "fair" and that he'll continue training for future events, even though he remains uncommitted about participating in the 2012 Olympic Games.
"It's not my decision. It's theirs," Phelps told the Associated Press about the suspension, the result of a photo in a British tabloid showing him inhaling from a marijuana pipe. The ban will keep him out of several smaller meets but still allow him to compete at U.S. Nationals and the FINA World Championships, both in July.
"I have nothing to say, but if that's what they want to do, that's their choice. It's something that USA Swimming came up with. It's fair. Obviously, for a mistake you should get punished."
Chuck Wielgus, director of USA Swimming, told The Baltimore Sun in an e-mail that the organization didn't believe this suspension - which also included the withdrawal of a $1,750 monthly stipend provided to national team members - set a precedent for other athletes who could, in theory, be suspended without testing positive for drugs.
"We viewed this as an extraordinary circumstance, and we do not see this as setting a precedent for other swimming athletes who might exhibit bad judgment," Wielgus said. "As a youth sports organization with hundreds of thousands of young athletes, we simply felt that it was important to send a message that we thought to be in the best interest of Michael, USA Swimming, the Olympic Movement and the sport. The decision was not made quickly or easily, and many were consulted in the process. I also want to stress that this decision was made in collaboration with Michael and he was in no way coerced or threatened; to his credit, he participated in the process and voluntarily accepted the reprimand."
Phelps spoke with reporters before his daily workout at the Meadowbrook Aquatic Center. The Fells Point resident, 23, said he is still being hounded by paparazzi everywhere he goes and that training has provided a welcome respite from the attention.
Thus far, most of Phelps' sponsors have stood by him, although Kellogg Co. announced it would not attempt to renew its deal with Phelps when it expires at the end of this month. Subway is the only remaining sponsor in Phelps' portfolio not to issue a statement saying it will continue using him as a pitchman. The sandwich chain has removed all references to Phelps from the front page of its Web site.
"When this happened, I immediately thought the two sponsors he would have trouble with were Kellogg's and Subway," said Dr. William Sutton, a sports marketing consultant and professor of sports business management at the University of Central Florida. "Subway has tied a big part of its image into healthy eating, and it's hard to see how that correlates with bong hits."