Why Oscar ‘Bladerunner’ Pistorius shouldn’t compete in the Olympics

Paul Raven @ 17-05-2008

Oscar \'Bladerunner\' Pistorius - amputee athleteIn a landmark ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, South African athlete Oscar Pistorius – nicknamed ‘Bladerunner’ after the carbon-fibre prosthetics he uses in place of his amputated lower legs – has won the right to compete against able-bodied athletes, and plans to represent his country at either the Beijing Olympics or the later London event. [image taken from linked article]

From a purely technological perspective, it’s fantastic that we can replace a man’s missing limbs and allow him to run at all, let alone run at record-breaking speeds.

But here’s George Dvorsky explaining why he believes Pistorius shouldn’t be permitted to compete against regular non-enhanced athletes:

“The short answer is that it’s not fair to the able-bodied athletes who don’t want to get into the enhancement game.

Moving forward, it sets up a situation where:

  1. able-bodied athletes will increasingly be set at a disadvantage relative to the cyber-athletes, particularly as prostheses improve, and
  2. able-bodied athletes will have no choice but to seek enhancement measures of their own, legal or otherwise, to remain competitive.”

Read the whole piece before making your mind up; it won’t take you long.

I’m not sure where I stand on this issue, because our species-wide fascination with competitive sports has always baffled me completely; I guess I don’t care who runs in a race, enhanced or otherwise. As long as it isn’t me. 😉

But bearing in mind how financially lucrative the sports industry is, I can see Dvorsky having a point. After all, it’s not as if his second point doesn’t describe a situation that already exists in the present with regards to drugs and dietary supplements, without any pressure from cyborg athletes in the same leagues.

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13 Responses to “Why Oscar ‘Bladerunner’ Pistorius shouldn’t compete in the Olympics”

  1. ffox says:

    i think this is actually exactly the argument FOR Oscar Pistorius to comepte, not AGAINST it.

    let competition create the “arms race” necessary to produce enhancements for all humans, not – like it is now – just show shat a human can do if he or she devotes an entire life to sports 🙂

  2. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    In a story I wrote back in the mid-90s (“Borders,” publishing in the anthology Treachery and Treason, I mentioned replacement legs that would be good enough to give a marathoner a shot at the Olympics. It didn’t occur to me back then that scientific advances that enable those with disabilities to do things the rest of us take for granted might be so controversial.
    I’m a writer, but I can’t write without either wearing my glasses or increasing the size of print on my computer screen. Does that mean I shouldn’t be allowed to publish what I write? Sounds silly, I know, but we’re talking matters of degree here.
    We’ve been inventing aids to improve on human defects since pretty much the beginning of time, some better than others. The problem with the drug scandals in athletics these days is not the so-called cheating; it’s that most of the drugs have pretty dangerous side effects. If we can develop treatments that speed injury recovery or enhance muscle growth that aren’t dangerous, why should they be any more controversial than painkillers or allergy medication? And why should good prosthetic legs be banned when good knee surgery is allowed?
    As far as I’m concerned, as we move into a world of genetic surgery and biomedical engineering marvels, the more important question is whether everyone who needs the help will get it. Of course, in a world in which people can’t get currently available treatment for curable diseases, I fear I know the answer.
    BTW, I don’t know enough about the story to know how Pistorius was able to get these prosthetics — he was certainly very fortunate — but my God, think of all the obstacles he has overcome to learn to use them to compete on a world level.

  3. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    And despite my glasses, I seemed to have missed the “close italics” command. Sorry. Insufficient coffee (another performance enhancing drug I can’t do without).

  4. SMD says:

    I have a huge problem with this only if the following is true: the enhancements give an obvious, significant advantage over able-bodied competitors. If this guy smokes the competition, he shouldn’t be allowed to compete, not because we don’t want some guy with fake legs winning all the time, but because his fake legs give him an advantage that people with real legs are incapable of competing against. If real legs stand no chance against his fake ones, then he shouldn’t be allowed to compete.
    We’ll see what happens when he actually runs.

  5. Scott Spaziani says:

    There is a serious issue surrounding this as more and more athletes, and humans in general, begin to artificially improve themselves. Where do we draw the line when it comes to artificial limbs, or steroids, or anything else that improve upon nature?

  6. Kian says:

    I really think its fine and a great milestone for the Olympic, saying that I do have to side with the general consensus on this. The Olympics always seemed to me to be about people pushing their bodies to their natural limits and testing themselves against one another. If the effect of the artificial legs does however give a significant advantage then it would effectively be like asking a man to race against a bicycle and would probably be better suited to its own Olympic event. For now however to the best of my knowledge technology is not developed enough to provide any major advantage and the very fact that he is racing is a testament to his pure will and determination (which are very fitting attributes for the Olympics) and I wish him all the best.

  7. Paul Raven says:

    Well to make my own position clearer, I say “let the guy run” – I don’t care a damn for the “sacred rules of sporting competition”. Guy’s a human being, he wants to compete, let him do it – devil take the hindmost, right?

    But where I see the problems arising are the sponsorship deals. This is meant in the best of possible taste, but Pistorius is never going to be sponsored by a trainer brand, is he? However, he’s a great advert for the company that make his prosthetics. Should they be allowed to sponsor him like a shoe company would? I’d say “sure”, but you can bet that the shoe companies would disagree.

    The issue goes way wider than “should a disabled guy run in the Olympics” – that’s where I think Dvorsky was going with his post.

  8. Kian says:

    I don’t paticularly see why prosthetic companies should not be allowed to be advertised just like shoe companies.

    The issue is definitly wider than it would initially appear but when it comes down to it, him running may give an entire boost to prosthetic technology. An increase in interest from the public eye and that of corporations might at least a a positive influence upon prosthetic reseach, via the possibilities of corporate funding/sponsorship. At least him being in the public eye shouldn’t really have a determental effect.

  9. Realitybytes says:

    I am totally with you on the fascination with watching sports. What’s with that?

  10. Henke Pistorius says:

    Oscar, a T43(double below the knee amputee) uses prosthesis available to amputees for over a decade -13years, I think.
    When Oscar kneels down at the starting line, 70-100% of his T44 (single below the knee amputees)competitors, wears the same prosthesis.
    Oscar has NEVER run against another T43 at international level. Balance as a double amputee, when walking is very difficult, running nearly impossible. Oscar is the difference.
    T44 athletic records were 12-15% faster than the T43 records in the pre-Oscar era, today the situation is nearly reversed – with the same prosthesis. What is the difference?
    Oscar started running 11 months before the Athens Olympics with prosthesis made by a friend and his father in a nearby airport hunger. These prosthesis were primitive, also carbon fibre prosthesis (called “blades” by elder brother Carl) which often snapped like glass, in full flight, sending Oscar sliding across the track. Oscar lost a lot of skin during those first months, but none of his incredible enthusiasm, dedication and commitment – “I will be the fasted dad he promised/announce during the first minutes on his “home made” (dangerously primitive)blades.
    Oscar shattered the 100meter and 200meter World Records for both the T43 and T44 classes in his FIRST official Open Competition(so called able bodies.)
    -at the time we did not realise that Oscar had chattered the Paralympic T43 100 meter World Record by 0,59 of a second. In fact it was only much later that we realize that Oscar, our “DIFFERENTL ABLE” (vs DISABLE – please can we not ALL change this “disabling name” to something more ABELING? PLEASE!!) son has broken the Paralympic World Records, 100 and 200m. The 200m World Record with more than 2 seconds.
    There is NOT now going to be a stream of paralympic athletes qualifying for the Open Olympics – so lets leave it OPEN and allow Oscar the competition he so truly deserves.
    Should critics not rather concentrate on what this very good athlete – in the truly Olympic sense of the word – contribute to what we ideally expect from a top athlete?
    A WORTH WHILE THOUGHT – thank you for your time.

  11. Paul Raven says:

    Thanks for your comment Mr Pistorius; I think if you look at our other comments here, you’ll see that most of us agree with you. But the debate goes wider than the simple ethical issues because of the money involved in sports as an industry – and where money is involved, you can expect corporations to not care much about the ethical considerations.

  12. Henke Pistorius says:

    Paul, you’r correct. Money and the associations made by the dynamic nature of the human mind do tend to pull issues onto different menus, not naturally associated with originally.
    Nike and Perilli are now two of Oscar’s main sponsors – many associations can and are made with positive powerfull stories of what is humanly possible.
    Lets hope more “differently able” athletes/people realise that with complete self believe, focused commitment and enthusiasm in what is possible to do, they CAN DO.
    What is possible, what you CAN is only limited by your OWN perceptions – lets not forget that.
    “I bet you that their is not one differently able person who would have chosen the word ‘disable’to refer to him/herself.”
    Often the ‘disabling, inabillity,help me,can not’ notion is instilled by parents own ‘mental dissabillity’ to manage a child with different abillities. That is also true for the general public’s own dissabillity to embrace differences ‘normal’ in all our societies.
    Oscar said to a TV interviewer one’s, “remember I am not disable, I just do not have legs like you.”
    (yes I am a parent, I get side tracked-pardon me)
    Henke Pistorius.
    they can be much more “able” than what the average person. thinks.

  13. HENKE PISTORIUS says:

    Hope to have more debate on the reference of, “differently ABLE” vs “disable”.
    All the Differently ABLE people & athletes would appreciate every bit of support that will help to create enough momentum that will allow the general public, the IPC( International Paralympic Comm),the IAAF and other support organizations to adopt and start using the word “DIFFERENTLY ABLE”, rather than “DISable” in their Official documents and press releases.