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13 May 2004 00:00
Banele Sindani, the chief executive of Athletics South Africa (ASA), denied on Thursday that the sentence passed on star athlete Hezekiel Sepeng was too harsh.
Sepeng, a 1996 Olympic silver medalist, has been given another chance to qualify for the Athens Olympic Games after ASA relented on an earlier decision to exclude him from the provisional squad.
But his reprieve has come at a significant cost.
The 29-year-old Sepeng received a R50 000 fine, suspended for three years, and is required to do 40 hours of community work in the form of coaching clinics.
“It is an appropriate sentence,” insisted Sindane.
Sepeng, who came second in the 800m at Atlanta, was left out of the provisional Olympic squad after failing to fulfil the criteria laid down by ASA.
Instead of competing in his specialist event at two Absa athletics meetings, Sepeng ran the 1 500m twice.
Following ASA’s change of heart, Sepeng will have to achieve the IAAF A Standard qualifying time of 1:46,00 before July 17 to book his passage to the Games in September.
A contrite Sepeng took full responsibility for the fall-out following his omission and said he hoped his punishment will deter other athletes from making a similar mistake.
“I’m so relieved,” said Sepeng. “It has been very difficult these past few weeks. I haven’t been able to concentrate on my training because of it.
“Also, I’d like to apologise to the public. I really do want to make my country proud of me.”
After threatening ASA with legal action—an action that ASA was willing to defend—Sepeng phoned Sindane to plead his case.
“It was the best thing I could’ve done,” explained Sepeng. “The main thing for me is to go to the Olympics. I want a gold medal this year and I think I can do it. I’m feeling good and in shape.”
Sepeng added that the R50 000 suspended fine did not concern him particularly.
“I’m not worried. I’m not going to do anything wrong in the next three years so I won’t have to pay it.”
Sepeng should have no problem in achieving the qualifying time when he competes in Europe this summer.—Sapa
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