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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Reaction to the Pistorius Ban

The reaction to the ban of Oscar Pistorius competing in the Olympics has been as swift as it is negative. AP reports declare that Pistorius' prostheses known as Cheetahs give him a "clear edge over able-bodied runners". This has been stated so many times that it is not even subject of discussion much less dispute. Yet the man who supposedly reached this conclusion, Peter Brueggemann a professor at the German Sport University, did not explicitly state this--the IAAF that banned Pistorius did. Brueggemann studied the protheses used by Pistorius for just two days and specifically concluded that Pistorius was able to expend "25% less energy" and that "the mechanical advantage of the blade in relation to the healthy ankle joint of an able-bodied athlete is higher than 30%". Does this mean Pistorius has a "clear edge over able-bodied runners"? Brueggemann himself does not necessarily think this translates into an advantage. I am by no means an expert on human physiology and sport science but it seems to me more evidence is needed to reach a conclusive decision to ban Pistorius. It also seems to me that the debate about Pistorius has less to do with the limits of technology than it does with one person's inate ability to run very fast via unconventional means.

The implications of banning Pistorius could be profound. Will all other disabled people be banned from competing in the Olympics? Where does the IAAF draw the line on what is socially acceptable technology? Sneakers are fine as is lasik surgery but not prosthetic devices? I have tried to remain objective about Pistorius--a level playing field is the goal for all who compete in the Olympics and governing bodies such as the IAAF are needed. Yet after reading the reaction and comments about the ban of Pistorius I cannot help but conclude a lot more is going on than a discussion about the orthodoxy of running. This in turn has led me to wonder if there are other reasons, far more prejudicial ones, that are preventing Pistorius from racing against other bipedal men. Pistorius is not the stereotypical image of an Olympian--his body is profoundly different than the idealized Olympian athlete. Thus I cannot help but conclude that it is Pistorius' mere presence that is so objectionable to many. This thought came to me after reading the comments appended to an AP report and a particularly thoughtless article by Michael Rosenberg (I feel bad but Pistorius shouldn't be an Olympian, Fox Sports 1/14/08). The tone of Rosenberg's article was snide and demeaning--he portrayed himself as a horrible man for supporting the ban of Pistorius because he "couldn't get past the idea that you run with your legs, and that the best runners in the world, by definition, need to run with their legs". I refuse to repeat the comments left by readers that are nothing short of shockingly prejudicial and bigoted.

If I used Rosenberg's logic I along with every other paralyzed person in the country would be unable to leave our homes and the Para Olympic games would not exist. The only form of normal locomotion is a bipedal gate and based on the comments I read about Pistorius we crippled people had better shut up. Such venom is and remains a shock to me. It makes me realize that we only pay lip service to the rights of disabled people in this country--for if one scratches below the surface the image that emerges is one of out right bigotry. Disabled people are not wanted and their expectations of being treated equally is deeply resented by the majority of people who are bipedal.


Ruth Madison said...

Wow. People are only okay with disabled athletes if they can all be lumped together in their own place and society can just forget about them.

I love the idea of disabled athletes competing along side non-disabled athletes. What is it that upsets people about that so much?

william Peace said...

Ruth, The point of sports, especially elite athletes is to win. When defeated to a cripple person is ten times worse. Surely you have defeated a male in competition and heard "I a cannot believe i lost to a girl". equally insulting.