By Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA (Reuters) - The Bulgarian weightlifting federation's lawyer is optimistic a doping ban will be overturned in time for its lifters to compete at next year's Olympics.
"Bulgaria's chances of participating in the Olympics are very good because this punishment contradicts existing International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) regulations," lawyer Boris Kolev told Reuters on Monday.
Last month the IWF said Bulgaria's lifters would not be eligible for the 2016 Olympics following a string of doping cases.
The Balkan country appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and Kolev said the final decision from the Swiss organization was expected in January.
Eight male lifters, including three European champions, and three female lifters, tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol during a training camp in Tbilisi, Georgia in March.
Asen Muradov, Ferdi Nazif, Vladimir Urumov, Stoyan Enev, Deyan Minchev plus female lifters Nadezhda-Mey Tuy Nguen and Maya Ivanova were suspended for nine months.
Former European champion Demir Demirev, 2014 European champions Ivan Markov and Ivaylo Filev, and female lifter Milka Maneva were banned for 18 months as they had already been suspended for doping.
Bulgaria found it tough to find suitable replacements for the banned lifters but still competed at the world championship in Houston last month and finished 21st in the team standings.
The country will have three spots for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro if the ban is overturned.
"We have three quota places and we expect to be there," Kolev said.
Bulgarian weightlifting has suffered repeated embarrassment due to doping cases and the national organization was temporarily stripped of its license in 2009.
A year earlier the country withdrew its team for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing because of 11 failed doping checks.
Bulgaria's reputation was also tarnished at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney where the team were stripped of three gold medals and sent home in shame following positive drug tests.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)