SEOUL, March 25 (Korea Bizwire) – In light of a lengthy doping suspension handed down to the South Korean Olympic swimming champ Park Tae-hwan, a local rule penalizing drug offenders has come under fire for its potential double punishment of athletes.
Earlier this week, Park was suspended for 18 months for testing positive for testosterone last fall. FINA, the international swimming governing body, collected Park’s samples on Sept. 3 and said the suspension would begin retroactively on that day. It is set to end on March 2, 2016.
Theoretically, it will still give Park time to get ready for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which will begin in August. It would be the fourth Summer Games for Park, a national icon and the first and the only South Korean swimmer with an Olympic medal.
He was the 400-meter freestyle champion at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and has won two world titles in that distance, too. He also has three Olympic silvers to his credit.
However, under a rule instituted by the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) in July, athletes who’ve served a drug-related suspension are ineligible for national teams in any sport for three years, starting on the day when the suspension ends.
Under this rule, Park won’t be able to compete for South Korea internationally until March 2019, by which time he will be 29 years old and likely past his prime.
Some in the legal community here point out that this particular rule would unfairly penalize athletes for a second time for the same offense, after they’ve already served their suspensions.
A local law firm, Barun Law, released a statement on Tuesday, arguing that the KOC rule is similar in nature with the now-annulled “Osaka Rule.” Originally adopted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2008, the rule barred athletes who’ve served a doping-related suspension for at least half a year from competing at the following Olympic Games.
In 2011, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the world’s highest sports tribunal, ruled that the Osaka Rule was “a violation of the IOC’s own Statute and is therefore invalid and unenforceable.” The United States Olympic Committee had challenged the rule.
Those in support of the CAS ruling said they were pleased to see the end of the double punishment on athletes. And Barun Law argued that the KOC would be handing down the very type of double punishment ruled invalid by the CAS and as part of the international anti-doping community, the KOC shouldn’t run counter to the international standards.
Roh Min-sang, Park’s old coach, is among those in favor of reinstating Park for the national team here after the FINA suspension ends.
“Park must have been going through a lot and I hope he will be given a chance to redeem himself,” Roh said. “Since he’s done so much for swimming in this country, I think it’d make sense to allow him to compete at the Olympics if he wants to do so.”
On the other hand, there are still those who believe no special exception should be made for any athlete, even for someone of Park’s stature.
Critics also note that Park received a lighter-than-expected penalty for his violation and the KOC shouldn’t give him special treatment by exempting him from the rule put in place less than a year ago.
Earlier this month, Russian swimmer Vitalii Melnikov received a two-year ban for testing positive for erythropoietin (EPO), which falls in the “S2. Peptide Hormones, Growth Factors, Related Substances and Mimetics” category on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances.
Testosterone, for which Park tested positive, falls in “S1. Anabolic Agents,” which typically leads to at least an equally severe penalty as “S2″ substances. Park’s penalty is six months shorter than Melnikov’s.
A KOC official didn’t rule out the possibility that the national Olympic body will discuss amending the rule on penalizing drug offenders, though no such discussion will take place any time soon.