The Court of Arbitration for Sport, world sport’s highest tribunal, has ruled that 21-year-old South African Oscar Pistorious can run in the Beijing Olympics.
Oscar is a double amputee, born with out fibulas. The controversy here is not if a disabled person should be allowed to compete, but if his Cheetah Flex-Foot prosthetics give him an “unfair advantage” over able bodied runners.
I am completely in favor of Oscar running in the Olympics, even if his prosthetics give him an advantage. What this decision does is further the controversy in athletics on performance enhancing substances (I hesitate to call them drugs since many of them are produced by the human body), medical procedures and prosthetics.
I’m about as likely to run in an Olympic event as a double-amputee. Being 5’6″ tall with a body like a potato pretty much eliminates any possiblity of me being a athlete at that level no matter how hard I trained. Does this make me as ‘disabled’, in relation to athletics, as Oscar? If I could take steroids, have medical procedures and attach prosthetics to my body and trained every day in order to compete would it be OK? If not, why?
Athletic success at a level like the Olympics is not only a matter of training and discipline, but a matter of genetics. If your body is not capable of completing the task, no amount of dedication is going to get you there. A great example of what I’m talking about is the movie Rudy, the story of an undersized, underathletic guy that wanted to play Notre Dame football so bad he dedicated 5 years of his life to it, and got to play in one game. While his tenacity is to be admired, he was not really what anyone would call a successfull football player. Why? Because of genetics.
At what point do we decide what is normal and what is an ‘enhancement’? What if, and I can’t really imagine this, an able bodied runner decided to have his legs amputated in favor of prosthetic limbs that made him run faster? Would this person be allowed to compete? What if an athlete had surgery that allowed him to perform at a higher level? With this ruling, the lines of what is an acceptable modification in an athlete has been further blurred and a controversy that is already at the forefront of popular culture has been extended.