Broke marathon champ sues for R8.5m

2012-04-28 19:05

After a six-year struggle that saw him lose two houses and the cash in his children’s education policies, runner Gert Thys finally instructed his lawyers to launch a $1.1 million (about R8.52 million) lawsuit this week.

The 40-year-old SA marathon record holder who now lives in a shack is suing Minister of Sports Fikile Mbalula, Athletics South Africa (ASA) and the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) for leaving him in the lurch to fight a lone battle to clear his name.

Thys’s woes started when he tested positive for a banned substance after winning the Seoul Marathon in 2006.

He was stripped of his title and the $80 000 prize money was withheld.

The runner protested his innocence from the onset. He took the case to the Court of Arbitration in Sports (CAS) in Switzerland.

He was eventually cleared in July 2009 after ASA had banned him from competitions for two years between April 2006 and December 2008.

Another leg of Thys’s suit is being handled by his Korean lawyers, whom he also instructed this week to recoup the first-prize purse in excess of R600 000 and a gold medal from the Seoul Marathon organisers.

According to a draft prepared by Thys’s US-based agency, Posso International Promotions, the runner was “deprived of at least $100 000 of income in the remainder of 2006”.

The figures are based on what Thys earned between 2003 and 2005.

“This being in addition to the $180 000 that he earned prior to his suspension, then approximately $200 000 per year during 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011,” read the draft penned by Derek Foude, the vice-president of Posso, to Thys’s US-based lawyer Howard Jacobs, the prominent athletics lawyer who has represented Thys since 2009.

He was exonerated by CAS in July 2009 on the basis that ASA’s tribunal decision did not set out any reasons, analysis or means of appeal when sentencing him. Worse, ASA failed to attend the penultimate October 26 2011 hearing, citing financial difficulties.

His case was pronounced closed by CAS in January after almost six years on the roll.

Mbalula said he was not “aware” of Thys’s case and the pending demands.

But in CAS’s 25-page ruling, a letter (dated January last year) was addressed to Mbalula and copied inter alia to the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport (Saids) and World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada).

Sascoc president Gideon Sam said: “If Gert believes he’s got a case, his first port of call must be ASA. He is its member.”

Ousted ASA president Leonard Chuene said: “He was found guilty outside the country in a competition where ASA was not even involved. Where do we come in now six years down the line?”

Drowning in debt of more than R2 million and with his legal bill standing at $9 528.50, Thys said: “The sports bodies must pay for the pain and suffering I endured in those years. They disregarded me.”

“Right now I have nothing and I owe people a lot of money – from the banks to private loans.” Thys said he was forced to sell his two houses in the Northern Cape to fight “through to the end”.

And the price he paid?

“I stay in a shack with my wife and four kids just outside Postmasburg (about 170km east of Upington) and that place is not even considered a residential area.”

Thys, who ran his standing record time of 2:06.33 in Japan in 1999, finished fourth in the 56km at the Two Oceans Marathon on April 7. His placing earned him R35 000.

So far, only Saids has contributed towards Thys’s legal fees – 10 000 Swiss Francs ordered by Wada – which he received this month.

Thys’s action coincided with Mbalula’s announcement this week that South Africa will host the world anti-doping conference next year.

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