John Steffensen banned for false racism claim

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Controversial 400 metre runner John Steffensen has been given a six-month ban by Athletics Australia (AA) for bringing the sport into disrepute after an investigation dismissed his claims of racial vilification.

The suspension, Steffensen’s second in two years, will run until 1 August, meaning the 30-year-old will miss the chance to qualify for the World Championships which run from 10-18 August in Moscow.

The 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medallist, born in Perth to South African parents, made the racism accusation prior to the London 2012 Olympics when Steve Solomon earned selection ahead of him despite Steffensen beating his teenage opponent in the trials. Steffensen, who competed along with Solomon in the 4x400 metre relay in London, had also complained that AA chief executive Dallas O’Brien had lied to him about the reasons for selecting the younger runner.

AA said an “exhaustive independent investigation” found no evidence of Steffensen’s claims and banned the athlete after a video link discussion with him.

“The board took into account Steffensen’s statements and his previous three-month suspension in 2010 before unanimously determining that a six-month suspension was appropriate,” an AA statement read.

Steffensen was banned in 2010 for abusing AA officials at a national championships and for comments he made when announcing he would not defend his Commonwealth Games title in New Delhi later that year.

Meanwhile, UK Athletics has toughened its selection criteria for the World Championships.

Only the winner at the trials will be guaranteed a place on the Great Britain team, provided they hold a valid UKA “A standard” for the event. In previous years, like for the Olympics last year, the first two home at the trials have been automatically selected, as long as they have had the required qualifying marks.

After the guaranteed places, athletes will be selected only at UKA’s discretion. The UKA’s aim through to the 2017 World Championships in London is to win medals, so it will only select athletes who have a realistic chance of being finalists or are potential future finalists.

Reigning world champions Mo Farah and Dai Greene and 2012 Diamond League winner Robbie Grabarz will be automatically subject to form and fitness. The trials will take place on 12, 13 and 14 July in Birmingham.