SEOUL (Reuters) - The head of the Korea Olympic Committee offered a glimmer of hope to Park Tae-hwan on Tuesday as the former Olympic champion swimmer bids to force the KOC to ditch a controversial doping suspension and allow him back into the national team.
Park, who has already served an 18-month doping ban imposed by swimming's world governing body FINA, is fighting to overturn a KOC regulation that has tacked on an additional three-year suspension, which would rule him out of the Rio Olympics.
The 26-year-old has lodged a case with the Court of Arbitration for Sport but has instructed the Lausanne-based tribunal not to proceed until he has received a definitive answer from the KOC on whether it would drop its rule.
KOC President Kim Jung-haeng said at a lunch meeting on Tuesday that while he would consider opinions from across the board on the case, he wanted to see Park swim in Rio.
"Speaking on a personal basis as a former athlete, I think it would be good if Park went to the Olympics," the former judoka was quoted as saying by Yonhap News.
"My response is based on a question that asked for my personal opinion."
Park won gold in the 400 meters freestyle at the Beijing Games to become the first Korean to win an Olympic swimming medal but his reputation was shattered when he tested positive for testosterone ahead of the Asian Games in Sept. 2014.
He attributed the failed test to an injection he received at a local clinic, where he said he was being treated for a skin complaint.
Despite the KOC ban, Park entered national trials this month and won all four of his races in times good enough for Olympic qualification.
However, his name was not on the Korea Swimming Federation's preliminary list of athletes who will have a shot at making the squad for Rio when it was released last week.
A recent public opinion survey by a prominent local polling company suggested most South Koreans thought Park deserved a second chance.
"It's clear that we have to eradicate doping, one of the four evils of sport, but more than 70 percent of the public are in favor of Park competing at the Olympics," said Kim.
Park is scheduled to meet with the KOC on May 25.
(Reporting Nataly Pak, Writing by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)