South African Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius faces immense legal and reputation challenges after being taken into custody last week. The world-renowned athlete was charged for the Valentine’s Day murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, who was reportedly shot multiple times through a door in his upscale Pretoria home.

Immediately after his arrest, Pistorius retained crisis PR counsel from Stuart Higgins. The runner undoubtedly holds a great deal of trust in Higgins, who handled media relations for Pistorius during the 2012 London Olympic Games. Upon his hiring, Higgins promptly flew to South Africa to be on the ground for the Pistorius crisis management and damage control efforts.

Global media interest in the Pistorius case has reached a fever pitch.  With his lawyers focused on providing the best possible legal defense, they likely do not have the time, interest or necessary expertise to engage with reporters. Having a veteran public relations professional available to handle the press is essential to effectively conveying core messaging and attempting to minimize the damage caused by the Oscar Pistorius PR crisis.

While the sprinter remains in custody, his trial in the court of public opinion has already begun. It is absolutely critical that his crisis PR and legal teams be 100 percent in sync during this decisive time. When working in tandem, the two provide a powerful communications platform, but the stakes in this situation are simply too high for any margin of error.

After already losing several corporate sponsors, the murder trial has certainly damaged the runner’s image. Red Banyan Group is interested to see what role the Pistorius crisis PR efforts might play in the defense (and potential rebuilding) of his brand before, during and after the highly publicized trial.