The news of the day has spread far and wide, so I'm about 23 hours too late in writing this post. (Alas, my employer considers his work to be important, too.) Yes, Oscar Pistorius has been ruled eligible to compete in able-bodied competitions by the Court of Arbitration for Sport today. My own views on this matter have changed dramatically since I first heard of Oscar, and can be tracked in my coverage of him (here, here, here and finally here).
This has generated varied responses from within the distance running blogosphere. At The Final Sprint, "Justice Prevails!" whereas at the Science of Sport, "Pandora's Box has been opened". Heck, this news even has the guys at Less Than Our Best looking into picking up some used moon shoes.
This is certainly a topic I'd like to comment on, as I most certainly have an opinion on the matter. I do not believe, given what I've read about this issue, that Oscar should be eligible to compete. But first, I want to clarify what the real issue is here, because I feel it gets missed by most writers on both sides of this issue. First, what it's not:
- The issue is not Oscar's lack of legs or his being disabled. Similarly, it is not my ability to relate to Oscar's situation. That is the biggest point made in the majority of arguments in favor of Oscar's eligibility. But empathy or pity for Oscar is not the issue.
- The issue is not Oscar's talent or work ethic. I have no idea how talented Oscar is or would be with legs. Quite frankly, no one does. And as for his work ethic, I have no doubt it's on a par with the greatest sprinters in the world. I treat that as a given. But then again, that's not the issue either.
- The issue is not "disabled" people's rights. I've seen this argued and quite frankly, I don't buy it. The integrity of the competition supersedes this issue, in my opinion. Not the issue.
- The issue is not how Oscar feels or believes. So what if he doesn't believe that his blades give him an advantage. Maybe he's right. Maybe he's wrong. When was the last time he ran with real legs to compare? Exactly. That's not the issue.
- The issue is not money or fame. Though Oscar stands to make a lot of it, for sure. This may be one of the driving forces behind Oscar's relentless pursuit of the Olympics. It's certainly a driving force behind Ossur (the maker of Oscar's "blades") attempting to prove they provide no advantage over human legs. It's probably a good thing for the IAAF, too, when all's said and done. Actually, this is an issue that hasn't been brought up enough. But it's not the biggest issue in my mind, either.
- The issue is not "spectator-friendliness" aka "giving the people what they want". Even if every person in the world wants to see Oscar compete in the Olympics, it doesn't matter one bit. Again, the integrity of the competition supersedes this. If enough people want to see Oscar run against the best in the world, there are plenty of meet directors itching to set it up. So yeah, this isn't the issue either.
- The issue is not the "slippery slope". Is it possible that by making Oscar eligible to run, we've "opened Pandora's box" as The Science of Sport put it? Sure. But some degree of technological encroachment has been happening for decades and will continue to occur. Maybe I'm just not a pessimist about these things, but I don't see this as the most important issue either.
- The issue is not what the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled. Yes, it matters. But that is a judicial ruling made by non-scientists. We shouldn't be concerned with whether three judges made a good or bad decision. That was an after-effect of our lack of dealing with the one crucial issue in this whole affair.
So what is the most important issue? The "Cheetah" blades themselves. This is really the only topic anyone should be talking about. We shouldn't be talking about making any runner eligible or ineligible. We shouldn't be talking about whether anybody "deserves" to compete or not. And we shouldn't be talking about what this means for the future of the sport. We should be talking about one thing: the blades.
Relative to the human leg, do the blades provide an advantage to the runner? If so, how much and in what ways? After reading the IAAF's original conclusions, my opinion was that Oscar should not be eligible to compete. Oscar says he has more evidence (and he must have something to have won the ruling), but he hasn't made it public. Personally, I have my doubts.
I have nothing against Oscar as an athlete. Nothing whatsoever. He's incredibly inspirational. I actually want to see him compete in the Olympics, at least on a personal level. But not given what I've read about his "blades".
So my ideal solution: make him change his "blades". Identify what it is about his "Cheetahs" that gives him the advantages identified by the IAAF, and modify the "blades" to eliminate some of those advantages. (Yes, I'm assuming these advantages exist and Oscar's "evidence" does not outweigh them--until he publishes his evidence, I think that's a reasonable stance to take.) Identify what criteria the blades would have to meet in order to be acceptable and then, if Oscar qualifies using those, let him run.
Not an ideal solution, perhaps. But I haven't heard many others that are.