Malaysian badminton star Lee Chong Wei Monday was 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 number one can 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 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.
Sudirman Cup target
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.
Anatomy of the doping drama
— August 30, 2014. Lee tests positive for dexamethasone, a banned anti-inflammatory, at the world championships in Copenhagen, a day before he loses the men's singles final to China's Chen Long.
— November 8, 2014. Malaysian officials say an unnamed badminton player has failed a drugs test. "I would like to inform you that we believe that this player is a very hard-working player and an exceptional individual," says Norza Zakaria, deputy president of the Badminton Association of Malaysia.
— November 11, 2014. The BWF finally names Lee and says he has been suspended "due to an apparent anti-doping regulation violation", ending weeks of speculation about the long-time world number one.
— November 12, 2014. Lee tells Malaysia's New Straits Times that he fears his chance of becoming world and Olympic champion is gone. "It has always been my dream to win both titles. It is also the reason why I took up the sport," he says.
— April 12, 2015. Lee appears before a three-member BWF anti-doping panel in Amsterdam, emerging looking relaxed after a six-and-a-half-hour hearing.
— April 27, 2015. The BWF announces an eight-month, backdated ban, finishing on May 1