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(Yonhap Interview) U.S. attorney hoping to be 'useful problem solver' for S. Korea at Rio Olympics

All News 10:14 July 25, 2016

By Yoo Jee-ho

SEOUL, July 25 (Yonhap) -- For all its Summer Olympics prowess, South Korea has dealt with its share of officiating controversies at the quadrennial competition.

While the athletes have cried foul over questionable and ultimately incorrect calls, national sports officials have often failed to take proper steps to file appeals.

For this year's Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the Korean Olympic Committee (KOC) has recruited a veteran U.S. attorney to make sure it won't make the same mistakes.

Jeffrey Jones, former chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Korea (AMCHAM), has joined the South Korean delegation to the Rio Games as the legal adviser. The KOC said Jones is the first lawyer, Korean or foreigner, to be a member of a South Korean Olympic delegation.

"I think they expect me to solve any problems that arise," Jones told Yonhap News Agency in an interview last Friday. "We've had instances where we've lost medals or not received medals because of a failure to properly protest, or to properly explain, or to follow appropriate procedures. The idea is let's be prepared and fix any problems that arise. Hopefully, we can resolve issues as they arise, rather than feeling bad about it after it's too late."

The decision to name Jones to the delegation is largely in response to judging controversies at the 2012 London Olympics and the KOC's failure to properly respond to them.

The most egregious case occurred in women's epee fencing, where Shin A-lam lost her semifinal bout owing to a timekeeping error. South Korea's appeal was ultimately rejected by the International Fencing Federation, and the KOC acknowledged it had failed to take proper steps to protest.

Jones should know a thing or two about solving problems, especially in South Korean sports, for he has previously helped two South Korean athletes escape from international ignominy.

In 2013, Jones helped footballer Park Jong-woo receive his London Olympic bronze medal from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Park was initially denied the prize because of what the IOC said was a "political" display during the bronze medal contest.

Then a year later, former Olympic badminton champion Lee Yong-dae was reinstated from an international suspension, thanks to Jones' help. Lee had been banned for failing to follow the anti-doping protocol, but the lawyer successfully argued that the sport's national federation, not Lee, was at fault for the mishap.

Jones called his latest work in South Korean sports "an experiment" because it's never been done before.

"Hopefully, we can create not only a precedent, but also sort of a manual on how to avoid these things going forward," he said.

Jones said he's keeping himself busy studying the rules of all the sports in which South Korea will be competing -- 24 of 28 overall -- and also studying the procedures required by the sports' international federations to appeal and to protest.

"For key events, I will try to meet as many of the important federations' leaders and judges (as possible), and build relationships with them in terms of why I am there, how we can be of assistance and how we can avoid issues," he said. "I want each of the federations to see us as helpers, rather than watchdogs. I want to keep the relationship smooth."

Jones said he's most concerned about the time constraints, since appeals and protests must be filed within a required time frame. While athletes and their coaches should know the rules in their respective sports, Jones said he's working under the assumption that they don't.

Jones said he plans to attend as many events as he can, and is especially looking forward to volleyball and handball. He also reserves a special place in his heart for badminton because of his history of working with Lee Yong-dae, who will be competing in the men's doubles in Rio.

Jones has lived in South Korea for more than three decades, and he feels compelled to help South Korean sports because of the way they can inspire people.

"We get so uplifted by their performance. It makes life happier in Korea when we feel good about our athletes' performances," he said. "I like Korea, and I want people to feel proud of this country."

Jones said the best case scenario for him would be to not have any problem to handle in Rio -- "It'd be vacation," he said of his first trip to South America -- but if he has to do it, he'd rather avoid the limelight.

"As lawyers, we are not the main show; we're a side show," he said. "When I can be useful and helpful, I feel very rewarded. I hope I can be useful (in Rio)."


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