South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan, who completed an 18-month doping ban in March, will be unable to compete at the Rio Games after the Korean Olympic Committee opted against amending a rule that tacks three more years onto doping suspensions.
Park won gold in the 400 metres freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Games to become the first South Korean to win an Olympic swimming medal. He added silver in the 200 in Beijing, and was second in both events in London four years later.
But Park’s image as the golden boy of Korean sport was shattered early last year when it emerged he had tested positive for testosterone ahead of the Incheon Asian Games in September 2014.
The 26-year-old attributed the failed test to an injection he received at a local clinic, where he said he was being treated for a skin complaint and where he also had some vitamin shots and chiropractic treatment.
Park received an 18-month doping ban from swimming’s world governing body FINA, which expired on March 2, but under KOC regulations he must wait a further three years before he can be considered for national selection again.
Under the rule, Park would regain eligibility at the age of 29, typically well beyond a swimmer’s peak.
While there has been criticism that the regulation effectively punishes an athlete twice for the same offence, the KOC said on Thursday it had decided not to change the policy.
“It is not appropriate to amend national team selection regulations for a specific person,” the KOC said in a news release.
The KOC said it had discussed the matter at a meeting on Wednesday and reached a consensus that “punishment for doping and national team selection are separate matters” and that it was important to maintain a strict position on doping.
The KOC’s stance could be at odds with a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling on the International Olympic Committee’s so-called “Osaka Rule”.
In 2011, the court deemed that the rule, which banned athletes who had served a suspension of more than six months from participating in the next Olympics, violated the ‘double jeopardy’ principle.
However, a KOC official told Reuters by telephone that their regulations on doping did not contradict any laws.
“For issues like doping, violence and fraud, we are trying to enforce stricter management to facilitate a clean and fair sports industry,” said the official.
“If this case is brought before CAS by Park, and CAS rules in favour of Park and says we should amend the law, then it has enforceability. But otherwise, at present, it does not.”
When asked about the possibility of taking the case to CAS, Park’s management agency, Team GMP, said there was “no response at present”.
It added that the swimmer may now decide not to take part in the national team trials.
“He has been training for it but now with the KOC decision it is unclear whether he will compete or not,” they said by telephone.
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