By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, May 2 (Yonhap) -- Banned South Korean swimmer Park Tae-hwan may submit a dispute to the world's top sports tribunal over a regulation concerning his national team status, though there's no guarantee a ruling in his favor will lead to his reinstatement, legal experts said Monday.
Participants at the Sports Arbitration Conference in Seoul discussed a wide range of issues concerning international sports law and disputes, among them Park's ineligibility for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.
Park, the 2008 Olympic champion in the men's 400m freestyle, served an 18-month doping suspension that ended in March this year. He returned to competition last week at the South Korean national team trials for the Olympics, but has already been ruled ineligible for the Games based on a rule by the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC).
The KOC prevents athletes who have served doping suspensions from representing the nation for three years, starting the day their ban ends. The KOC has defiantly fended off criticism of double punishment and has maintained it wouldn't create exceptions for specific athletes.
Sean Lim, a discussant during the presentation titled "International Sports Law and Sports Arbitration," touched upon the similarity between the KOC's rule and the now-annulled "Osaka Rule."
Adopted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2008, the Osaka Rule barred athletes who had 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, determined that the Osaka Rule was "a violation of the IOC's own Statute and is therefore invalid and unenforceable."
Lim pointed out that even if there is no arbitration agreement between Park and the KOC to bring the case to the CAS -- typically required for a dispute -- the swimmer could still bring his case forward.
"That formality is not required to bring this arbitration case," Lim said. "Even when there's no agreement, we can still bring this issue to the CAS to the extent that there's any relevant regulation binding both the athlete and the KOC."
William Sternheimer, deputy secretary general of the CAS, didn't speculate on Park's chances of winning, and he pointed out that the CAS can't actually force the KOC to comply with its ruling even if Park wins the case.
"We're not responsible for the enforcement of CAS rulings," he said. "We don't know whether the losing party will comply or not with rulings. But in about 90 percent of the cases (the losing parties) have complied with the rulings."
Park won the 100m, 200m, 400m and 1,500m freestyle races at last week's Dong-A Swimming Competition, and met the "A" Olympic qualifying standards set by FINA, the world's swimming governing body, in all four. Park also posted the fourth-fastest 400m freestyle time of the season. He said after the competition he feels the situation outside the arena is out of his control and he'll let his agency handle any legal matters.
The deadline to finalize the national swimming team for the Aug. 5-21 Olympics is July 18.
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