South African judge rules Oscar Pistorius can travel abroad to compete, but with conditions

  • Article by: GERALD IMRAY , Associated Press
  • Updated: March 28, 2013 - 1:46 PM
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Olympic athlete, Oscar Pistorius , in court Friday Feb. 22, 2013 in Pretoria, South Africa, for his bail hearing charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

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PRETORIA, South Africa - Oscar Pistorius could compete at this year's world championships after a South African judge eased his bail restrictions and ruled Thursday that the athlete, who faces a murder trial for the shooting death of his girlfriend, can travel overseas to run.

The international athletics body said that if Pistorius qualifies, it had no objections to him running — an event that could eclipse the stir last year when he became the first double amputee to compete at the Olympics. Pistorius' agent told The Associated Press soon after the ruling that the world championships in Moscow in August could be a possibility if the runner wanted to return to the track on his carbon fiber blades.

Judge Bert Bam upheld the Olympic athlete's appeal against some of his bail restrictions, but said the 26-year-old Pistorius must travel under certain conditions. The athlete could face a life sentence if found guilty of murder for the Valentine's Day shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp.

His passport will be held by a court while he is in South Africa, and he can only leave the country if he provides an itinerary of his travel plans at least a week before he is due to leave. Pistorius must also hand his travel documents back to the court within 24 hours of returning home, Bam ruled.

"Based on this (the judge's decision), and if he is up for it and qualifies, the world championships will definitely be on the radar," Pistorius' agent, Peet van Zyl, told the AP by telephone.

The judge's decision was "fair," Van Zyl said, but any return to track would be up to Pistorius, who hasn't run competitively since September and hasn't trained for two months. The worlds are in August, while Pistorius' next court appearance is June 4.

"It's his call. He's the one under all the pressure for the court case and grieving for Reeva," the agent said.

Although Pistorius' lawyers said in the appeal hearing that he had no immediate plans to compete, he would likely need to return to track in the future to earn money, they said. Pistorius, widely known as the Blade Runner for his prosthetic legs, did not attend the court session.

"He has no desire to compete now but it might change and it will change," defense lawyer Barry Roux told the judge in arguing for Pistorius' travel restrictions to be eased. Roux said Pistorius would not try and evade trial if he is allowed to travel internationally, and would eventually need to run again "to earn an income."

"He is not going to run away and hide. He is going nowhere," Roux told the judge in the brown-walled courtroom in the high court, where television cameras and photographers were allowed in to record the proceedings. "Why stop him from traveling under controlled circumstances?" Roux added.

Pistorius says he killed Steenkamp accidentally when he fired shots through a door in his bathroom in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, fearing there was an intruder in his house. Prosecutors say he shot the model and reality TV star intentionally after they argued, and they have charged him with premeditated murder.

The IAAF, athletics' ruling body, reiterated that it wouldn't comment on the case involving Pistorius, but he would be allowed to run at the world championships if he met the sporting criteria.

"If he qualifies for (the) Moscow World Championships next August, then on the basis of (the) `innocent unless proved guilty' principle he would be free to run," IAAF spokesman Yannis Nikolaou said in a statement emailed to the AP.

The decision on whether Pistorius could run at other events would be at the "discretion of meeting organizers" and not the IAAF, Nikolaou said.

British Athletics chairman Ed Warner said it was too early to say if Pistorius would be invited to the London Anniversary Games in July at Olympic Stadium, a meet to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Olympics. Any decision would be taken "with great care," Warner said.

Pistorius' last competitive race was his victory in the 400 meters final at the London Paralympics in September last year. He hasn't trained or "seen a track" for around nine weeks, agent Van Zyl said, but when he was ready they would consider both able-bodied and Paralympic events.

Van Zyl saw no reason why Pistorius shouldn't be allowed to run again by athletics authorities while accused of murder and said that he had been contacted by race promoters who wanted to see Pistorius return to competition.

"If they (track bodies) don't allow him to run and he walks out (of court) a free man, there might be a problem," Van Zyl said.

The judge also ruled in favor of Pistorius on three other bail restrictions.

He no longer has to be regularly supervised by a probation official and a ruling that he wasn't allowed to consume alcohol and could be tested at any time for alcohol and "prohibited substances" was lifted. Bam also slammed one of the bail conditions imposed by another court, saying a condition that Pistorius would be in breach of his bail if he was merely accused of another crime against women was "fraud." It went against Pistorius' constitutional right to be innocent until proven guilty, Bam said.

The high court judge's rapid ruling came three hours after the hearing began.

Two other restrictions — that Pistorius was not allowed to return to his house, where he shot Steenkamp dead on Feb. 14, and had to report regularly to a police station — should be "disregarded," the judge said.

It meant Pistorius' legal team succeeded in all its appeals. Pistorius' lawyers smiled after the judge ruled in their favor.

The prosecution wouldn't comment on how the ruling affected its case.

"Our focus is on the upcoming trial and we need to focus on that with all our minds," National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Medupe Simasiku said. "The investigation is going well and we believe that soon it will be completed."

The athlete's lawyers had earlier argued that he was being treated as a flight risk by his bail restrictions even though a magistrate ruled last month that he was not when he released Pistorius on 1 million rand ($108,000) bail.

Defense lawyer Roux also argued against a ruling that prevented him from speaking to residents near his home, saying he should be allowed to consult with them to prepare his defense.

Prosecutors had opposed the relaxing of Pistorius' bail restrictions and also said the appeal should have gone to the original magistrate's court that set bail for Pistorius, and not Pretoria's high court. Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair imposed the bail conditions on Feb. 22. Pistorius had been held in a police station until then. He hasn't been seen in public since and is believed to have been staying at an uncle's house.

Pistorius was not required to attend his appeal hearing and none of his family members were present at the court in the heart of South Africa's capital city.

At Pistorius' next court appearance in early June, the prosecution would aim to serve indictments, chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel told the court. Nel said there is a possibility that Pistorius' trial will begin by the end of the year.

___

AP Sports Writers Stephen Wilson and Rob Harris in London, and Jerome Pugmire in Paris contributed to this report.

___

Follow Gerald Imray at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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