London — Zola Budd has returned home to South Africa. The remarkable, young runner - who switched passports in 1984 to avoid a ban on South African athletes competing in international sports - said Monday that she needed a ``substantial period of recuperation'' with the support of family and friends to regain her health. Her withdrawal from competition, which she says is temporary, means that the participation of the British team in the 1988 Olympics is no longer in danger.
Miss Budd's decision comes two months before Britain is scheduled to choose its team for the 1988 Olympics to be held in Seoul this coming September. Sports officials say she would almost certainly have qualified for the British team.
But the International Amateur Athletics Association warned Britain last month that the middle-distance runner should be suspended from competition for one year because she had violated an anti-apartheid sports rule. The association said she ``took part in'' a South African sporting event last June by warming up with friends at a nearby track and appearing at the event and giving it her moral support.
The British Amateur Athletics Board was warned that if it didn't ban Budd, Britain itself could be banned from this year's Olympic Games. Now sports officials, who were upset at the federation's ruling, are quietly relieved that the pressure has been lifted before they had to make a difficult decision.
Since her arrival in Britain four years ago at the age of 17, Budd has been unable to escape identification with the apartheid regime of her native country.
With the help of the Daily Mail, a London tabloid newspaper, she acquired a British passport in less than a month's time and settled into a new home with her parents.
She easily qualified for the British Olympic team in 1984. But hopes for a gold medal were lost when she collided with Mary Decker of the United States and finished seventh in the women's 3,000 meter final.
Wherever Budd ran, she was met by anti-apartheid activists and charges that she was running under a flag of convenience.