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PROTRACK » GENERAL » Race row threatens to engulf athletics

Race row threatens to engulf athletics

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1 Race row threatens to engulf athletics on Wed Jul 25, 2012 9:31 am



Race row threatens to engulf athletics

Samantha Lane
Canberra Times
Date July 25, 2012

John Steffensen's failure to lodge a racial abuse complaint from the Beijing Olympics that has only surfaced four years later means the Australian Olympic Committee - which has conducted internal investigations into the matter in recent days - had no grounds to call the alleged perpetrator to account under its discrimination policy.

Steffensen claims that an Athletics Australia official in Beijing called him a ''nigger'' and ''jungle bunny'', and then removed his luggage from his room.

His allegation, which has been verified by Steve Hooker, who was the runner's roommate in China, would have triggered a formal investigation had the allegations been formally raised with the AOC.

However Australian chef de mission Nick Green, who has replaced John Coates as team boss since the Beijing Games, said yesterday the matter was irrelevant to him as a new Olympic team prepared to compete in London.

Continuing to distance himself from Steffensen, who has become a side show to the national athletics team, Green said: ''It's not occupying my time. It's a matter which the sport is dealing with and they manage their athletes particulary well.

''It [allegedly] happened in 2008. I'm looking after a team in 2012.

''From the larger team point of view he's not [destabilising] the team. I haven't spoken to the athletics team … but we know that he's a character, and he's allowed to be a character and voice his opinion.''

Green, who has not spoken to Steffensen, said he would only intervene ''when it becomes out of control''.

AOC media chief Mike Tancred told Fairfax: ''I have checked with every Australian Olympic Committee team official from 2008, including Craig Phillips our secretary general, and there was no mention made by John Steffensen that he had a problem in 2008.

''We never heard of it. He never made a complaint to the AOC. Never. We have very strong rules regarding racial vilification, sexual discrimination and … we would deal with it if it happened during a Games.''

According to Tancred, anyone found guilty of racial abuse would have been punished for breaching the team agreement: ''That means you have to front up to the chef de mission and the claim would be investigated.''

Pole vaulter Hooker has said the athletics official who Steffensen alleges racially abused him is not part of the London unit though the sprinter's ongoing problems with the sport's administration stem from the episode. But Steffensen has repeatedly accused the current chief executive of Athletics Australia, Dallas O'Brien, of a cover-up and branded him a ''liar''

Steffensen was yesterday kept out of a group media session as the national athletics team fine-tuned its preparations on a camp at the Tonbridge School in Kent before moving into the Olympic village.

Hooker said: ''The staff member that was involved in that incident in Beijing isn't on this team so as far as this team goes I don't believe John has any issues with anyone on this team.

''That is stuff from the past and unfortunately John is still carrying that around with him and still has an issue with it. But we all hope as a team and we hope for John that we can get past that for the sake of this next two weeks and if there is stuff that still needs to be resolved at a later date then it can happen then.''

Steffensen's racial abuse complaint surfaced publicly after he was overlooked by selectors to run the individual 400 metres in London.

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