Discrimination Takes a Different Turn for Athletes with Disabilities
|Oscar Pistorius running in a marathon|
The controversy stems from the presumption that Pistorius has a biomechanical advantage because the prosthetics alter his spring, stride, and/or height in some favorable way. Pistorius has agreed to be tested by a world-renowned scientist, Dr. Peter Bruggemann, from the Institute Biomechanics at the German Sport University of Cologne in Germany. Dr. Bruggeman will determine Pistorius's energy expenditure and measure his running mechanics and compare them with runners without disabilities to determine if there is any energy-conserving benefit to his prostheses.
The disappointing part of what could be a very exciting breakthrough for athletes with disabilities relates to certain comments made by several members of the IAAF. Elio Locatelli, IAAF Director of Development, was quoted as saying: "With all due respect, we cannot accept something that provides advantages." But what was even more appalling than his twisted version of guilty until proven innocent was the condescending remark that Pistorius should set his sights on the Paralympics rather than the Olympics since all this controversy "...affects the purity of sport. Next will be another device where people can fly with something on their back." How insolent can a person be?! Other IAAF officials made wild assumptions that Pistorius could easily fall and injure himself or other athletes, as if this has never happened in the history of the Olympics or Paralympics! How quickly we forget about Mary Decker's fall in the 1984 Olympics and numerous others like it.
Some experts claim that the controversy surrounding Pistorius's bid to compete in the Olympics has more to do with a pervasive ignorance about respect for human difference and disability than a competitive edge. New York Times columnist Selena Roberts wrote an outstanding article (NYT, July 18, 2007, On a Golf Course or a Track, Fear of Disabilities Is the Same) in which she compared Pistorius's plight to that of golf pro Casey Martin, who in the late 1990s filed a court case to allow him to use a golf cart during competition due to a painful circulatory disorder. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 2001 and after many diatribes and hurtful remarks by well known golf authorities, the 'unfair advantage' never came to fruition. Martin has since retired and is now the golf coach at the University of Oregon.
Roberts ends her story by noting that "Track officials should inspect the science and push for fairness but end a defiance that only illuminates their deficit of enlightenment....Track's insular officials should see Pistorius as someone who opens doors, not as a gate crasher to an Olympic ideal. His disability is an opportunity for track, not an absurd ally in cheating."
The irony in this so-called controversy is that while Pistorius spends several hours a day in weight-training rooms and on outdoor tracks as a dedicated athlete striving to be the best in the most natural way possible, Barry Bonds takes a few swings at batting practice and gets a standing ovation for launching his 756th home run....likely the result of illegal, performance-enhancing drugs. Who really has the competitive advantage in the world of sports? Clearly, it's not the athlete with a disability who must overcome tremendous odds to reach the upper echelon of competition.