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06 August 2012
A work in progress
South African Oscar Pistorius, dubbed the ‘Blade Runner’ because of his amazing carbon fibre prosthetic legs, has run in the individual men’s 400m, followed by the 4x400m relay at the London Games. He isn’t the first athlete with a disability to compete in an Olympic Games, but his inclusion has sparked heated debate.
Inclusion. We believe in it. We strive to achieve it. In this first article on the topic, we look at some of the issues it raises and find out what a couple of people with a disability think.
Michael Milton, one of this country’s most successful winter athletes and a Play by the Rules Ambassador, is a big supporter of inclusion but thinks Pretorius should not be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games.
“Of course everyone should be given the opportunity to take part in a game, kick a ball, get a touch, score a goal, regardless of their age, skill level or ability,” said Milton. “Sport at grassroots level should be inclusive and all clubs should strive to foster a culture that makes that possible.”
“But the Olympic Games are different. Oscar is clearly an awesome athlete and I am amazed by his achievements, but he has machines for legs and although they may not carry him to an all-out Olympic gold medal this year, technology will advance and others will follow. What then?”
Others have a different viewpoint. UK journalist Simon Barnes (who has a son with Down Syndrome) writing in The Australian put it this way:
“Is it the purity of sport? Or is it the issue of inclusivity? Do we allow disabled people to be in the same world as us, or do we say, sorry, sport matters more than you lot do? The philosophy of sport is an interesting subject; but inclusivity, sharing, equality and fairness matter far more than offside or crooked put-ins or no-balls or the question of when a runner is not a runner.... We live in a more generous world than the one I was brought up in and Pistorius is a fine symbol of it. May he run and run.”
There is no doubt that Pistorius and people like him offer inspiration to young and old all over the world. That’s fair, just and right and Stella Young, self-described “crip” and Editor of ABC Ramp Up, agrees. What she does object to is the use of people with disabilities (usually in photos with emotive captions) as “feel-good tools” so able-bodied people can “put their worries into perspective”.
Milton says: “Interviewers would repeatedly ask questions about losing my leg and how that felt when I’d just won four gold medals. It was almost as if they saw the amputation of my leg as a far greater achievement than winning for my country. It drove me mad.”
Two things are certain: Oscar Pistorius will race in this Olympic Games and sport for people with a disability is a work in progress. The mere fact that Pistorius is even allowed to compete, shows us how far we have come from the days when people with disability were institutionalised and virtually ignored. The challenge for sporting clubs and associations lies in ensuring inclusion, catering for individual needs and in rewarding real achievements.
Read the full stories quoted in this article at:
Simon Barnes in The Australian - Oscar Pistorius and South Africa’s giant strides
Stella Young on ABC Ramp Up - We’re not here for your inspiration