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The Notorious Pistorius

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The Goldfish | 13:05 UK time, Monday, 16 July 2007

Oscar Pistorius
The sports world is in suspense this week as the athletics' governing body, the IAAF attempts to determine whether 'Blade Runner' Oscar Pistorius, who is a double-amputee, has an unfair advantage over his bipedal competitors. If the IAAF finds that his prosthetics (or 'blades') give him an edge, then the South African sprinter could be banned from the 2008 Olympics.

Elio Locatelli, the director of development for the I.A.A.F. has been widely quoted in saying that

“It affects the purity of sport. Next will be another device where people can fly with something on their back.”
Which begs the question, if sport might be sullied by the presence of technology, does paralympic sport, where prosthetics, wheelchairs and other technology are commonplace, simply not count? And what about cycling, where a new lighter and more stream-lined type of bicycle might make all the difference?

Disability Bloggers have been writing about this. Elizabeth at Screw Bronze! takes up this theme of sport and purity in an in-depth post which compares the anxiety about Pistorius with other historical sporting dillemnas, such as the initial ban on boxer Jack Johnson being able to compete in for the Heavyweight Championship - because he was black.

"This seems to be the essential argument and it is also the most familiar. While the rhetoric of society is that disabled people are equal, there is an obvious fear of even the possibility of a man with prosthetic legs lining up with able bodied men and winning."
Having read a fair amount of coverage of this story, I know I have been struck by the number of sporting commentators who - whilst keen to sing his praises as disabled hero overcoming diversity - are absolutely adamant that Pistorius' blades give him an advantage, even though there is, as yet, no solid proof about this.

Marmiteboy also suspects a degree of disablism is at work;

"In my view, the reason there is so much opposition to Oscar's participation is that they couldn't bear it if he actually won. What a terrible thing that would be for the non-crip world an uppity crip beating them in a running race."
Other mentions have been made at Wheelie Catholic and Wheelchair Dancer. There is a debate to be found on the BBC Five Live 606 pages.

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  • 1.
  • At 01:43 PM on 16 Jul 2007, Chris Page wrote:

There is no doubt in my mind that the IAAF is coming off as Disablist, but I also worry for the future of the Paralympic movement - they've fought hard for our athletes to be seen by the mainstream Press as the elite atheletes they obviously are, and I feel that all that good work will be undermined, once more rendering them "brave crips having a go".

i understand where you are coming from Chris but I don't know where else Pistorious can go. He is streets ahead of other disabled athleter and he wants a challenge, even if this means putting himself up against non-disabled athletes.

I think Oscar is well aware that he may be seen as jumping ship but he is challenging a governing
body like the IAAF for the right for equatible treatment and I can't criticise that.

He said himself in a radio interview last night that he felt he was being discriminated against because he is disabled and wants to fight them on that.

It won't spell the end of the parasports movement, infact it maay well encourage other disabled people to take up sport. Despite the patronising press Oscar is becoming a bit of a champiuon for disabled people and is showing up just how discriminatory the world is.

A teenager I met years ago who was adjusting to using a prosthetic leg following a road accident fully intended to compete in both paralympic and Olympic events. And even ten years ago there was talk about how streamlined the blades were. I was shown some very similar to the ones Oscar uses. This was seen as a plus in paralympic circles, perhaps not so elsewhere. I hope he finished training and went out there and achieved his ambitions. I sincerely hope he doesn't have to deal with the crud Oscar is going through at present.

As Seahorse alludes to, these blades have been available for about fifteen years - it's only now that someone has got so very good on them.

As for the threat to the Paralympics, I've always felt a bit uncomfortable about the level of segregation that exists in any case. The Paralympics is largely regarded as a sideshow, whereas I see no reason it can't be at least partially integrated into the main event. We don't have a different men's and women's Olympics, even though men and women do not compete with one another.

  • 5.
  • At 03:34 PM on 17 Jul 2007, Nat wrote:

"disabled hero overcoming diversity"

Sounds more like the IAAF are trying to 'overcome diversity' by ensuring that everyone who competes has the same number of limbs.

  • 6.
  • At 03:46 AM on 18 Jul 2007, Audrey wrote:

I vaguely remember a similar type of discrimination involving a golfer being allowed to compete in a really swanky tournament in the USA.

They didn't want to allow him the mobility aid of a golf cart, to prevent his leg from becoming so lymphedemically swollen that he'd lose it, yet, also claimed he'd have unfair advantage if he went for having the amputation to lower his constant risk of gangrene, and was fitted with a prosthetic which would allow him to actually walk the course in less pain than he was already experiencing, riding and getting in and out of the cart.

They obviously were just a group of men afraid that guy would win over them. He'd been sort of their token mascot till it looked like he might play better.

  • 7.
  • At 07:05 PM on 15 Jan 2008, Sharon wrote:

Having worked on the technical side of disabled sport I find the comments I read were ill informed.
Before anyone competes in any sport as a disabled person they must be assessed to see the level of their disability and how it affects their ability to perform their chosen sport. Perhaps it could be suggested that Oscar has been assesed again on similiar criteria.

Any sport that involves technolgy whether it is wheelchair racing or F1 motor racing is governed by rules that ensure no one has an unfair advantage. Such rules are applied to Olympic sports and should be equally applied to all. Should we bend the rules for one? Would this set a precedent?

Anyway, does it do the disabled community in general, or disabled sportspeople, any good to have someone playing the disabled card just to get their own way???

Might I add that I'm also disabled and have actively participated in sport myself.

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