John Steffensen has accused athletics chiefs in Australia of “racially vilifying” him through their selection decisions for the London 2012 Olympics.
Steffensen has threatened a boycott of the Olympics after a rival, teenager Steve Solomon, was placed ahead of him on a provisional list to run the individual 400m event – despite neither Solomon or Steffensen posting an automatic qualifying time for the event.
Steffensen, who with Solomon has been selected for the 4x400m men’s relay, appeared on Australia’s Channel Nine News on Friday, producing a tirade (video embedded below) which lasted several minutes. During his rant, Steffensen confirmed he had filed a complaint to Athletics Australia over what he views as racial abuse. He then stated he would not run in the Olympics if Solomon was selected for the 400m event.
Over the weekend, Athletics Australia chief Dallas O’Brien released a statement describing John Steffensen’s claims as “regrettable.” However, O’Brien said no disciplinary action would be taken against the runner.
Speaking to Channel Nine News about the 19-year-old Solomon’s selection, a visibly annoyed Steffensen said:
“I’ve put up with being racially vilified by this federation, being discriminated against on many teams. You think I waste my time running at training for fun? For this? No, they can have athletics. I don’t need to do this no more. […] I don’t think it helps the legitimacy of our sport or the selection criteria, and I think it only makes our sport look stupid.”
Steffensen then repeated his accusations of prejudice, stating:
“You know it would help if I was a different colour. A lot of my decisions with my federation would be totally different. But I’ve never brought that up. I’ve always kept quiet on that. Because people aren’t really going to want to hear that sort of stuff. I was going to run the relay and go home and do the right thing by the sport. Now I’m saying something because they’re not doing the right thing by me. And at age 30 and the amount of years and effort I’ve put into the sport, the medals – everything I’ve done for the sport – I deserve a little bit of respect.”
On Sunday, Steffensen had taken to his Twitter feed to suggest Channel Nine had edited his interview unfavorably:
@fraggle73 some times I see how they cut and manipulate my interviews and I end up hating myself lol! I dnt blame people for hating me!!
—steFF PREfontaine!! (@JohnSteffensen) July 15, 2012
Defending the AA’s decision, O’Brien said the organisation had been put in a corner by the fact they could only nominate one Australian athlete under IAAF rules. He told Fox Sports:
“We didn’t have anywhere to move. John has his own opinions. I think that’s probably a statement he may regret making in future times when things settle down. It’s an emotional business this and it’s regrettable what John has said, that’s a shock.”
Steffensen defeated Solomon at the Olympic trial in March, before suffering a hamstring injury that has affected his London preparations.
You can watch Steffensen’s outburst on Channel Nine in the video embedded below. Do you think this is a case of sour grapes, or does John Steffensen have a valid point?