French runners suspended after brawl

AP, Saturday 23 Jul 2011

The French athletics federation provisionally suspended middle-distance runners Mehdi Baala and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad on Saturday after they traded punches during a Diamond League meeting

Mehdi Baala and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad
runners Mehdi Baala and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad trading punches during a Diamond League meeting

Baala and Mekhissi-Benabbad, who have had a tense relationship for years, clashed at the end of the 1,500 meters during Friday's Herculis meeting at Louis II stadium in Monaco.

Baala head-butted Mekhissi-Benabbad, who responded by throwing several punches that mostly appeared to miss. They were then separated but continued to exchange insults.

The French federation condemned the athletes' "unspeakable behavior" and said they are suspended pending a hearing by a disciplinary commission which will be held within eight days.

If they are banned, they could miss the worlds in Daegu, South Korea, which start Aug. 27.

"Bernard Amsalem, the president of the French athletics federation (FFA), has decided to call an emergency meeting of the FFA disciplinary commission in order to make light of this incident and to take all necessary measures," the federation said.

Baala finished ninth in the race won by Silas Kiplagat of Kenya, while Mekhissi-Benabbad was 11th. Baala won silver at the 2003 world championships and finished third in the 1,500 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Mekhissi-Benabbad was second in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at Beijing.

"There was a misunderstanding," federation technical director Ghani Yalouz said. "I told them to apologize to each other and that's what they did."

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