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Chong Wei free to compete from Friday

KUALA LUMPUR - MALAYSIAN badminton star Lee Chong Wei (pic) was yesterday cleared to resume his career and pursuit of Olympic gold when he received an eight-month, backdated ban for doping.

The former long-time World No 1 will be able to return to the court as early as this week after the Badminton World Federation found he “accidentally” ingested a banned substance.

Lee, 32, who is eligible to resume competition on Friday (May 1), had warned he would retire if he was hit with a possible two-year ban that would have ruled him out of next year’s Olympics. He was delighted with the outcome of a process which began at last August’s World Championships, when he tested positive for the banned anti-inflammatory dexamethasone.

“I’m quite happy,” Lee told reporters at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur. “I am very happy to go back to the court.”

The BWF said an anti-doping panel found Lee had been “negligent” by ingesting the substance, which was in contaminated capsules containing a food supplement.

But it was satisfied Lee did not set out to cheat, after studying evidence given at a hearing in the Netherlands.

“The panel is convinced this is not a case of doping with intent to cheat,” the panel found, according to a BWF statement.

Lee had previously said he received the drug during stem-cell treatment for a thigh injury before the World Championships, where he was runner-up to China’s Chen Long.

He was stripped of his world championships silver medal but allowed to keep his singles and team bronzes from last year’s Asian Games, which he played before the failed drugs test came to light.

Crucially, Lee can now begin his build-up to Rio de Janeiro next year, where he will try to crown his career by winning his first Olympic title.

Lee said he accepted the BWF’s ruling and would be more careful to avoid banned substances.

“I can say I learned something from these few months,” said the soft-spoken shuttler. “I will be more careful now.”

Lee, a quiet, self-effacing athlete know for shunning the limelight while training obsessively, first became world number one in late 2008, staying at or near the summit ever since.

But he has repeatedly fallen short in pursuit of the sport’s top prizes – the world and Olympic titles – despite reaching three world championship finals and two Olympic deciders.

Lee’s absence from the court has dropped him from the top ranking all the way down to 30th in the world.

Malaysian badminton officials had told AFP they were hoping for a decision this week so that they would know whether or not to include Lee in the May 10-17 Sudirman Cup in China.

Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, who appeared at the press briefing with Lee, said Malaysia also wanted him to compete in the Southeast Asian Games in June.

“I agree with (the Badminton Association of Malaysia) and Chong Wei that he needs to get back into form with as many competitions as possible to ultimately qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janiero after being out of action for eight months,” Khairy said.

-- Courtesy of AFP/BT

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