Malaysia's Olympic badminton star Lee Chong Wei's backdated eight-month ban for doping; can play from May 1

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Malaysian shuttler Lee Chong Wei was handed a backdated eight-month ban for doping by the Badminton World Federation on Monday, keeping alive the former world No. 1's dream of winning gold at the Rio Olympics next year. He will be eligible to compete again on Friday.

The 32-year-old Malaysian, twice an Olympic silver medallist, had been under a provisional suspension since November after testing positive for anti-inflammatory drug dexamethasone during the world championships three months earlier.

Lee, the winner of 55 titles around the world, had his case heard by a three-member panel in Amsterdam on April 11 and faced a two-year ban which would have all but ended his career but the Kuala Lumpur-based BWF opted for a softer sentence.

"The panel is convinced this is not a case of doping with intent to cheat," the world governing body said in a statement.

However, the panel found that Lee had been "negligent", but ruled that the degree of negligence was "rather light".

Lee's inactivity - his last match was a defeat to China's Chen Long in the world championship final - has seen his ranking slump to 30th in the world.

Lee, one of Malaysia's favourite sporting sons, remains his country's top ranked shuttler and was nominated last week for Malaysia's 2014 Sportsman of the Year award.

Dexamethasone is an anti-inflammatory that does not enhance performance but is on the list of banned substances. The anti-inflammatory drug, which is prohibited in competition, was found on the casing of gelatin capsules of a food supplement that Lee was taking, the BWF said.

Lee said in a news conference on Monday: "I am of course relieved. I accept the result. I will review and be back, and maybe...will be stronger mentally for the competitions to come."

Lee was allowed to keep the two Asian Games bronze medals he won in Incheon, South Korea, in September, as he hadn't yet been notified of his failed test.

He will be free to take part in the May 10-17 Sudirman Cup, one of the first events with qualifying points for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The year long qualifying campaign for Rio begins next Monday.

Malaysia will be eligible to enter two singles players in the men's and women's Olympic tournaments if they are both ranked inside the top 16 at the ranking cut-off.

Lee is also likely to take part in the South-east Asia Games in Singapore in June before the World Championships in Jakarta in August.

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