Athlete banned for racism row
John Steffensen (AFP Photo)
Sydney - An Australian sprinter who claimed ahead of the London Olympics he was racially abused by officials and accused the athletics federation of vilification was Thursday banned from competition for six months.
John Steffensen triggered controversy in the lead-up to last year's Games when he claimed that an Australian Olympic Committee staffer racially abused him in Beijing in 2008, an allegation supported by team captain Steve Hooker.
After he was overlooked for an individual 400m berth for London, Steffensen told Australian television he had "put up with being racially vilified by this federation, being discriminated against on many teams".
"You know it'd help if I was a different colour, then a lot of decisions with my federation would be totally different," said Steffensen, who represented Australia in the 4x400m relay in London and is of South African heritage.
Athletics Australia slapped him with a six-month competition ban on Thursday over the remarks, which it said had been debunked after an "exhaustive independent investigation".
"This investigation, which was undertaken with Steffensen's participation, determined that the athlete's public allegations through the media of racial discrimination and vilification against him could not be substantiated," the governing body said.
The ban, which covers both domestic and international competition and is effective until August 1, was punishment for "making statements and engaging in conduct likely to bring the sport of athletics into disrepute", it added.
Steffensen, a silver medallist at the 2004 Athens Olympics and two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist, has had several run-ins with athletics chiefs and served a three-month ban in 2010 for abusing national officials.
A 2007 study by Australia's Human Rights Commission found that racial abuse and vilification were common across the nation's sporting codes from amateur through to professional level, leaving ethnic minorities under-represented.