By Myles Edwards
The IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) and BOA (British Olympic Association) claims to encourage fair play and equality. Therefore, it is somewhat strange that they have given one verdict to two contrasting individuals, both striving for athletic glory and both going ‘the extra mile’ in very different ways. Two cases which, according to the BOA, have a supposedly similar issue at their core – performance enhancement.
Oscar Pistorius and Dwain Chambers are both banned from able-bodied Olympic competition.
Oscar Pistorius is the double amputee world record holder for the 100, 200 and 400 meters. Aged 11 months, Oscar’s legs were amputated halfway between his knees and ankles. He now runs with carbon fibre, artificial limbs. It is these limbs which have caused controversy in the world of athletics as a result of the IAAF’s claim that they give Oscar ‘unfair advantage’ over able-bodied athletes.
Dwain Chambers burst onto the athletics scene with immense promise in 1995. Following a successful 3 year spell as a junior, Chambers failed to fulfill his early promise and in August, 2003 he tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid, Tetrahydrogestrinone. Chambers was stripped of medals and prize money backdating to 2002. As a result of Chambers’ offence, Christian Malcolm, Marlon Devonish and Darren Campbell were stripped of their gold 4x100m relay medals from the 2002 European Championships. Since then Chambers has won silver in the World indoor 100 metres, failed to make it at as an American footballer and is now playing for Castleford Tigers in rugby league.
While the stories of Pistorius and Chambers differ in many ways, there is a parallel issue at the heart of both. The matter of honesty is where these two stories collide, with such disparity. Oscar Pistorius has aided the IAAF with their inquiries at every opportunity. Oscar Pistorius is hiding nothing, he is not cheating and his honesty affects no one adversely. Chambers was caught cheating and therefore admitted his wrongdoings. His conduct and so-called honesty not only puts the integrity of the sport into jeopardy but resulted in three worthy athletes being stripped of their World silver medals.
On one occasion when Oscar was a child, two older boys pushed him back and forth until he fell over. In true Oscar-fashion, he bought a punch bag. Not long after, the same two boys targeted Oscar again, only for Oscar to get even. He retaliated and kicked one of the boys in the chin with his prosthetic leg, the boy fell to the floor, weeping, and Oscar was not bothered again. When faced with adversity – Oscar picks himself up, Chambers cheats, with a ‘pick-me-up’.
Pistorius currently awaits the result of his appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against his Olympic ban. The IAAF claims that Pistorius gains an unfair advantage through use of his prosthetic limbs and in early 2007 (around the time Pistorius was reaching the peak of his career so far) they introduced Rule 144.2 prohibiting:
‘The use of any technical device…that provides the user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device.’
Oscar Pistorius has enough obstacles in the way of his destiny without this discriminatory intervention from the IAAF. Of course this rule was tailor made to halt Oscar Pistorius, unless the IAAF had got wind that Britain’s failing sprinters were planning on utilising jet packs in competition. Sarcasm aside, Oscar recalls one astonishing response from the IAAF:
“The IAAF said that they want competition to be between humans and not manufacturers. They also said that if they didn’t ban technical aids then what is to stop athletes using roller blades or bicycles and they may as well allow athletes to compete with a jet pack on their back.”
It is clear that the IAAF have a fight on their hands. Oscar’s father, Henke, can take a great deal of credit for his son’s resilient attitude:
“My brother, sister and I learnt from a young age not to include the words ‘I can’t’ in our vocabulary. Our father always taught us that if you want to do something and you put your mind to it – you’ll get it done.”
Pistorius is unique, a one-off and therefore must be treated as an individual:
“In fourteen years of prosthetic limbs, no one has come close to the standard of able-bodies athletes. I am 0.8 seconds away from qualifying form the South African Olympic team.”
“I don’t think a lot of people realise how hard you have to train to be a professional athlete. With continual emphasises on the prosthetic limbs, it takes credit away from my hard training and ability as an athlete. It’s basically saying that you can cut off any guy’s legs, give him these limbs and he’s going run awesome times. You get out of them what you put in.”
The carbon fibre blades, which have earned Oscar the nickname of ‘Bladerunner’, are not new and they are not unfair. Whilst not claiming to know more than the scientific tests being carried out by the IAFF on Oscar’s limbs, common sense must prevail, whatever the result. Banning Oscar from Olympic competition is sending the wrong message out to every human, disabled or not.
Dwain Chambers and Oscar Pistorius had/have the same goal – they just chose a different means of achieving it. No matter what Chambers achieves, he will always be seen as a cheat. Whatever Oscar’s achievements, he will be seen as an inspiration and a role model.
Pistorius is simply making the most out of a situation where most people would have given up long ago. All he wants to do is compete at the highest level which is physically possible for him, why should any honest human being be denied that chance? Subconsciously, Oscar Pistorius represents hope and determination.
“My job is not to go and win every persons heart over about prosthetic limbs, my job is to be a professional athlete and run, at the end of the day.”
Oscar’s motto of ‘you get out what you put in’ would slot perfectly into an ideal society where justice and common sense prevail. However, with supposedly sensible yet seemingly silly villains at the head of bodies, such as the IAAF and BOA, it shouldn’t be a surprise if we find out about doped up athletes having competed for Olympic glory in Beijing, when the honest and indomitable Oscar Pistorius was left at home. He defines the word ‘inspiration’ and for his appeal to fail would contradict every value at the core of athletics.
“You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”