SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea’s Olympic badminton gold medallist Lee Yong-dae has had his one-year ban for missing dope tests reversed, the Badminton World Federation announced on Tuesday, leaving him free to compete at this year’s Asian Games.
The 25-year-old won mixed doubles gold at the 2008 Games in Beijing and a bronze medal in the men’s doubles in London four years later. Another Korean player, Kim Ki-jung, was also banned for one year but is now also free to compete.
The BWF had given the players one-year suspensions in January for “violating the requirements relating to filing whereabouts information and resulting missed tests under the BWF Anti-Doping Regulations”.
Both players appealed the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
At the time, the BWF said it chose not to dish out the maximum two-year ban due to Badminton Korea Association’s (BKA) failure to make diligent efforts to keep it informed about the players’ whereabouts.
On Tuesday, however, the BWF said on its official website that new evidence had been presented as part of the disciplinary process, evidence that should have been made available in January.
It added that the sanctions had been reversed and the players were eligible to resume playing immediately.
“The information and evidence presented at the January hearing was insufficient and ambiguous and there was no proof beyond reasonable doubt that the players were not at fault,” said the BWF.
“The appropriate decision applied at that time.
“However, this new evidence renders the CAS Appeal almost entirely unnecessary as it means ‘material evidence’ would be presented for the first time without having been made available to or evaluated by the BWF Doping Hearing Panel.”
After reviewing its original decision, the BWF panel wiped out the players’ “missed tests and filing failures” and expunged their records.
The doubles specialists will now be able to compete at the Asian Games from September 19 to Oct 4 on home soil in Incheon.
At a news conference in Seoul, a smiling BKA president Shin Kye-ryun, flanked by lawyers who argued the players’ case, said justice had been done.
The association had admitted the situation had arisen due to their administrative errors and that the athletes had done nothing wrong, he added.
“The last three months were difficult for us. Lee and Kim had a lot to say but they had to endure all this time. I am so grateful for them,” Shin added.
“Lee said to me on the telephone, ‘I am extremely sorry and grateful to the Korean citizens. I will do my best in training for the Games and repay the debt that I owe to my fans.’”
Jeffrey Jones, one of the lawyers acting for the players, said the lesson to be learned was that Korean sports bodies had to strictly abide by rules and regulations.
“The Korean association did not fully understand the importance of rules and regulations... we lawyers are not smart but we studied regulations and procedures,” added Jones.
While it was still possible that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) could revive the case, Jones said it was unlikely as he had already spoken to them and they did not seem eager to drag the case further.
Even if WADA moved to press the case again, “Lee Yong-dae can compete in the Asian Games because a whole new trial should be open and the verdict won’t be made until the end of the Asian Games,” added Jones, who also helped soccer player Park Jong-woo get his Olympic bronze medal after the IOC withheld it from him.
Following South Korea’s victory over Japan in 2012, Park triggered a diplomatic row by holding up a sign referring to a territorial dispute between the Asian neighbours.
Jones represented Park at an IOC hearing and the player was able to receive his medal last year.
The BKA’s Shin said the association would hire an official to manage athletes schedules and interpreters in a bid to avoid future issues.
“Lee went through an unfortunate event but I think there is ‘Lee Yong-dae effect’ after all. What I mean by that is: ‘Wow things like that can happen to athletes like Lee!’ so we should be more careful and vigilant.”
Additional reporting by Narae Kim; Editing by John O'Brien