comsc US Politics | AMERICAblog News: Is it fair for a man with prosthetics to compete in the Olympics?
Join Email List | About us | AMERICAblog Gay
Elections | Economic Crisis | Jobs | TSA | Limbaugh | Fun Stuff

Is it fair for a man with prosthetics to compete in the Olympics?

| Reddit | Tumblr | Digg | FARK

A South African athlete, Oscar Pistorius, competing in the Olympics has prosthetics in place of his feet and lower legs. The question for a number of years now is whether this gives him an unfair advantage over other runners. Finally, it was ruled that there was no "net" advantage because studies seemed to suggest the prosthetics helped him run in some ways and hurt him in others.

ESPN seems to sum up some of the arguments in Pistorius' favor:
[T]he sight of Pistorius in an Olympic race was a beautiful thing. How can anyone not stand up and cheer for him? How could anyone seriously oppose his participation in the Olympics? How can his saga be viewed as anything but a dramatic and inspiring story?

I mean, running with carbon-fiber blades is not like steroids or doping. This is not going to become the next performance-enhancer athletes will use to cheat.

"Exactly,'' Jeffrey Kessler said. "No one is going to say, 'I'm going to make myself a double amputee so I can compete with carbon-fiber prosthetics.'''
Well, I can easily see how someone could be understandably skeptical about his inclusion in the race.  On humanitarian grounds of course everyone wants him in.  But that's not really how we determine who gets to be an Olympic athlete, based on our sympathies.

And some of the arguments in his favor seem somewhat irrelevant.  "It's not like doping."  Okay.  But that's not really the question.  The question is whether it gives him an unfair advantage. Or rather, the question is whether this is the same thing as running on two feet.

"It's not like other players would now make themselves double amputees to compete."  Again, that's not really the question.  The question is whether a sport based on legs, or at least feet, is open to those who don't have them.  It's sounds mean, but this is an athletic sport.  Again, you enter based on your physical abilities, not based on our level of sympathy.

Would it be fair for a swimmer without hands or feet to use paddles?  How about a runner with a wheelchair?

And what if Pastorius decides to tweak the prosthetics to make them faster, to make them compensate for whatever disadvantages the scientists previously found?  Would that still make him eligible or would that now be like doping?  And how would anyone know?  There are tests for doping, the tests for the prosthetics, the scientific studies, seem to be all over the place.

Now, the contrary argument which Pastorius made, among others, was that athletes use technology all the time to give them an advantage - whether it's the type of shoes that runners buy, or the swimsuit that swimmers use.  And he's right.  And I have to admit, it's always troubled me that they permit athletes to try to find the best swimsuit, or shoe, to increase their speed - that seems unfair too, and contrary to the notion of whether one person's body is simply faster than the other's.  They ought to all get the same uniforms (or go nude like the Greeks).

I get why folks want to support Pastorius.  I don't think, however, that one's sympathy, or admiration, is the basis for which we allow athletes to compete in the Olympics.  I don't think it's possible to know whether this prosthetic does or doesn't give him an unfair advantage.  What we do know is that he's not a man running on his own two feet.  And to me, at least, that's what this race is.  And if it's not, then permit wheelchairs too.

I know it's not permissible in some circles to write any of this, but I think it's worthy of a more intelligent discussion than ESPN gave it - if only to address the concerns that some folks might have.

Curious what the rest of you think.

blog comments powered by Disqus