Put a sock in it Steffensen, and start acting like a man.
The problem with 400m runner John Steffensen is that he’s modelled himself on Anthony Mundine. He’d be better off acting like a man instead of “The Man”, and copping his selection omission on the chin.
When Mundine switched from rugby league to boxing, he claimed league selectors wouldn’t pick him in representative teams because of the colour of his skin. That line was always ridiculous given the numerous dark-skinned players in rep teams at the time.
John Steffensen peddled a similar load of garbage this weekend, accusing Athletics Australia of racism after their failure to pick him for the individual 400m event in London, even though he’s still in the relay. It was a rant as hollow and unbalanced as anything Mundine ever delivered.
A quick recap, for those who missed the lead-up. John Steffensen hasn’t run an “A” qualifying time this year, which would likely have guaranteed an individual London 400m berth. Neither has anyone else in Australia.
That meant Athletics Australia was entitled to select just one 400m athlete who’d run a slightly slower “B” qualifier. So it did just that.
The athlete it chose wasn’t John Steffensen. Instead, it was national 400m champion Steve Solomon. Not only is 19 year old Solomon the national titleholder, he has also run a faster time than Steffensen this year, partly because Steffensen injured himself at the Stawell Gift.
Quite possibly Steffensen is still the stronger athlete. All the same, AA considers Solomon a serious long term prospect well worth blooding in London. And since this decision was what’s known as a “discretionary selection”, it was all, on paper at least, perfectly above board.
Athletics Australia’s selection policies this year have in truth been the proverbial dog’s breakfast. US-based Queensland Steeplechaser Genevieve LaCaze ran an A qualifier, mystifyingly didn’t get picked, then eventually did get picked due to public pressure and AOC intervention. It was high farce.
Change is needed at AA, and Steffensen and his fellow athletes probably deserve the cleanout Steffensen has long campaigned for. But it’s a leap of Steve Hooker proportions to say that an inept body is a racist body.
Maybe John Steffensen should talk to Patrick Johnson, Josh Ross, Nova Peris-Kneebone and a woman called Catherine Freeman who both literally and figuratively lit up the track at Sydney.
He of all people should also know that selections are habitually messy in athletics. For a number of reasons, it is simply not practical for the sport to adopt swimming’s elegantly simple selection process of first-past-the-post at the national trials.
Steffensen apparently received moral support from former indigenous hurdler Kyle Vander Kuyp after his appearance on Nine. Maybe they could both shed some light on this issue, so to speak. If barriers to selection do exist for indigenous athletes, the public deserves to hear some specifics.
Here’s a sample of what Steffensen told Channel Nine on Saturday:
“I don’t think [Solomon’s selection] helps the legitimacy of our sport or the selection criteria, and I think it only makes our sport look stupid. The rules and the goalposts are getting shifted. Now they’re going to pick who they want to put in the team.
“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
“…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.”
Steffensen is way out of whack in that last line. If discrimination is real, then you betcha, people absolutely would like to hear about it.
Look at the outcry earlier this year when an AFL recruiter suggested some clubs are avoiding players of Aboriginal heritage. Plenty of people got extremely angry when they heard that. Those same people, and plenty more, would get right behind Steffensen with a full head of righteous steam if he came up with even a skerrick of hard evidence.
So how about it, John? Or is this all bluster in the great Mundine tradition?
Now 30, Steffensen has been a fine athlete for some time. I was fortunate enough to be trackside in Athens in 2004 on the final evening of Olympic track competition, when Steffensen led Australia off in the 4x400m relay en route to an unexpected silver medal. Steffensen finished his lap in 7th place, as each member of the Aussie team clawed back their share of ground.
The following year, Steffensen made the 2005 World Championships final. He also won dual Commonwealth gold in Melbourne, before boycotting Delhi after yet more argy bargy with Athletics Australia.
The bottom line is that Steffensen has been and still is a world class athlete. But he is not quite a world-beating athlete. AA has used its discretionary selection to pick a young guy in Steve Solomon who might one day reach that extra level.
By the way, young Solomon is reportedly Jewish. You somehow get the feeling he wouldn’t be calling AA a pack of anti-Semites had he missed selection for an individual 400m berth in London.
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