Why the carping of Oscar Pistorius might actually represent progress

One of the more notable, and sadly less savoury aspects of the Paralympics has been the row over the length of Alan Oliveira’s blades in the T44 200m final, something that Paralympic poster boy Oscar Pistorius thinks gave his rival an unfair advantage. In one respect it’s quite sad as the row has deflected attention from the achievements of Oliveira and in particular British athlete Jonnie Peacock, whose win in the T43/T44 100m was pretty bloody spectacular.

My reading of the story is that although Oliveira’s blades were significantly longer than Pistorius’s, they broke no rules and therefore he has no case to answer. Maybe it was unfair advantage, maybe it wasn’t. But he didn’t win illegally (although disparities in blade length surely do make a difference to speed, especially over distances like 200m and 400m) so I worry that the complaints of Pistorius are simply sour grapes. He has chosen his blade length, partly so he can compete with the able-bodied athletes as he was clearly bored at winning so easily in the equivalent events for the disabled. That won’t be a problem now though, seemingly……..

Impressive though Pistorius and his achievements are, he just isn’t used to losing against other disabled athletes. Clearly the defeat came as a big shock to him.

His response to being beaten was the depressingly standard reaction of an athlete who isn’t used to and doesn’t like losing. You can call it unsporting maybe, although he would argue that it was the level of focus and determination required to be a winner. I’d err towards unsporting. I don’t like a bad loser and I don’t like a bad loser throwing around accusations of foul play with not a lot to base it on (and before you say the words Ye Shiwen to me, just bear in mind that it was a totally different set of circumstances.)

I think the episode points up something positive however. This was an international news story. That is to say the Paralympics are a big deal and when there is a controversy during the games it is being reported and analysed in exactly the same way that any normal sporting controversy would be. Pistorius reacted the same way that any sore loser did in any sport, be it Arsene Wenger, Michael Schumacher, Christiano Ronaldo or me after I bombed at the Great Birmingham Run last year (although next time, boys and girls, I am throwing down).

This is being treated with the same level of seriousness as a similar type of dispute at the Olympics would be. The stakes are equally high. These guys are competing at the highest level and what they do is of international significance, in exactly the same way as the performances of Usain Bolt, Mo Farah or Bradley Wiggins.

Would this story have been reported this way ten or fifteen years ago or generated anything like this amount of coverage? No. There’s no doubt that this Paralympic games has had the biggest profile of any disabled sports event, ever.

That is equality, I think, and it is most welcome. Surely everyone in the Paralympic movement or those who want their achievements to be celebrated and not condescended to should be welcoming these developments, in a perverse kind of way. When the Paralympics is afflicted with same levels of bitterness, egotism and professionalism that the Olympics are, and incidents of bad sportsmanship or alleged cheating are major global news stories then I would argue that we are making progress to a time when the disabled are treated the same as those of us with all our limbs but a lot less determination.

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