The sporting world seemed poised to give the cold shoulder to Oscar Pistorius after a court in South Africa allowed the Olympic and Paralympic star to return to international competition.
Organisers of major athletics meetings now face a dilemma over whether to invite the 26-year-old to race. Many privately admit that they are reluctant to welcome Pistorius, who is awaiting trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his home last month.
British Athletics declined to comment on the issue, but sources close to the governing body say Pistorius is unlikely to receive an invitation to run at the London Anniversary Games, to be held in the Olympic Stadium on 27 July, or at the Birmingham Grand Prix on 30 June.
Pistorius was a headline act at two prominent Diamond League meetings in the United States last year – New York and Eugene – but he is unlikely to be welcomed back to either this year. Organisers for the two events refused to comment publicly, but one source said: “My gut feeling is that it would be completely unrealistic.”
The official line from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the sport’s governing body, is that it will not dictate to meeting organisers which athletes they invite to their events. But it is believed that any organisers who do invite Pistorius will risk incurring the wrath of the authorities, who fear an onslaught of negative publicity for the sport.
An IAAF spokesperson said: “All invitations are at the discretion of the meeting organisers, and not the IAAF.”
It is believed that the governing body is planning talks with federation members and key meeting organisers to dissuade them from extending an invitation to Pistorius. One source close to the IAAF said their biggest fear was a small meet wanting to make a name by bringing upon itself a media circus. Most of the meeting directors contacted by the Guardian said they needed time to discuss the developments.
Pistorius’s agent, Peet Van Zyl, said he believed that the athlete could rely on invitations to race from a number of supportive meeting directors. “I am confident that competitions will want him back,” he said. “I have received emails from numerous meet directors who have been supportive of Oscar [during the trial] and said one day they would like to see him back on the track at their meets.”
Van Zyl said he last spoke to the athlete a week ago, when a return to competition was not discussed. He plans to sit down with Pistorius and his coach next week to plot the future.
“Oscar and Oscar alone will determine if and when he wants to train and wants to be running,” he said. “He has not been training for a substantial amount of time. He’s a world-class athlete and if he’s in the right condition, then and only then will he decide.”
Van Zyl described the prospect of Pistorius running in the world championships in Moscow in August as “highly unlikely”. He added: “We’re not going to force anything. At the end of the day it’s his choice. If he wants to run again, we’ll be there for him.”
Adam Azzie, 26, a friend of Pistorius since school, said: “It would be nice to see him get himself together and get back on the track to be successfully competitive.”
Pistorius could face a life sentence if convicted of murder. He claims that he mistook his girlfriend for a burglar when he opened fire through a closed bathroom door at his home in a gated community in Pretoria. He is next due in court on 4 June, and his trial is likely to take place before the end of the year.
The double amputee athlete was released on bail by the magistrate Desmond Nair last month under strict conditions including surrendering his passport and not returning to his home.
On Thursday his lawyers asked the North Gauteng high court for several of the conditions to be relaxed, arguing that Pistorius – who has been staying with his uncle – was effectively under house arrest. Pistorus was not present in court.
Pistorius’s lawyers said he had no immediate plans to return to competition but he would probably need to do so in the future to earn money. “He has no desire to compete now but it might change and it will change,” the defence lawyer Barry Roux told the judge. Roux said Pistorius would not try to evade trial if he was allowed to travel internationally.
“He is not going to run away and hide. He is going nowhere,” Roux said. “Why stop him from travelling under controlled circumstances?”
He added: “Why would this athlete go to a country without extradition and go and hide? It is not as if the appellant is travelling for holiday in Mauritius; it’s only to gain an income, there’s no other reason.”
The judge, Bert Bam, granted the appeal, saying there was no reason Pistorius should not be allowed to leave the country if he was invited to compete abroad. But his passport will be held by a court while he is in South Africa, Pistorius can only leave the country if he provides an itinerary of his travel plans at least a week in advance, and he must hand his travel documents back to the court within 24 hours of returning home.
The judge also decided that Pistorius no longer had to be regularly supervised by a probation official. A ruling that he was not allowed to consume alcohol and could be tested at any time for alcohol and “prohibited substances” was lifted. Pistorius was also allowed to return to the home where he shot and killed Steenkamp.
The decision to allow him to travel abroad was criticised by a friend of the Steenkamp family. Samantha Sutton, who is close to the late model’s mother, June, said: “I thought it was disgusting. I don’t think it’s right. I’m shocked. If you’ve got accusations like that against you, you should be like anyone else, but if you’ve got money and lawyers standing with you it’s different of course.”
Asked how the Steenkamps would react, Sutton replied: “I don’t think they’re thinking about him. They feel sadness. What’s done is done; he’s done the worst and they’ve got to get on with their lives.”