Cameron Conaway wonders: How can a guy who pushed the boundaries of moral fairness so far that they became unfair to others possibly complain about unfairness?
We all know South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius as the “Blade Runner,” although thousands of other competitors essentially do the same thing. He’s been catapulted to global superstardom not so much because he’s considered “the fastest man on no legs,” there have been others before him, but because he’s put up one heck of a fight, all in the name of fairness, to compete against what are called “able-bodied” athletes, that is, athletes who are not viewed as disabled by conventionally-accepted standards.
I’ve long sat on the fence regarding the debates he has started. On one hand he has used his fame and “disadvantage” to inspire athletes and people from all walks of life. Surely thousands of households and gyms have posters of him with his awesome quotes like, “You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.” For all the great motivational things he’s done, I believe he’s at a physical advantage. He doesn’t have to worry about calf cramps or Achilles tendon injuries, and he essentially only has to train half of his legs while being lighter and likely more aerodynamic. While the debate will go on and we likely won’t find a true scientific answer that accounts for every variable, the debate changed yesterday, at least for a moment.
Pistorius lost by 0.07 seconds to Brazil’s Alan Oliveira in an event in which the world and he himself felt he was invincible – the 200 meter sprint. The loss was sure to make waves, but in the post-race interview Oscar Pistorius took it all to a whole new level:
“He’s never run a 21 second-race and I don’t think he’s a 21-second athlete,” he said of Oliveira. “I’ve never lost a 200-meter race in my career.” He mind as well have said, “The only way I can ever lose is if someone cheats.”
In addition to making comments about the unfair length of Oliveira’s blades, he also said: “We aren’t racing a fair race.” According to the Washington Post, the International Paralympic Committee said: “There is a rule in place regarding the length of the blades, which is determined by a formula based on the height and dynamics of the athlete. All athletes were measured today prior to competition by a classifier and all were approved for competition.”
The social media world lit up about all of this with many believing what CNN’s Piers Morgan captured in this Tweet:
My first thought was: How can a guy who pushed the boundaries of moral fairness so far that they became unfair to others possibly complain now about unfairness? He complained for rule changes and now complains that he lost? What gives?
Eventually I came to see that this isn’t at all about Oscar Pistorius. It’s about how fairness, a value the Olympics and especially the Paralympics tries desperately to create, is impossible. In able-bodied events, every athlete is at some advantage or disadvantage – all are somehow abled or disabled. Some variables, such as limb length, nutrient metabolism and fast-twitch fiber percentage are mostly genetic, while others are situational, such as how one athlete may have the finances to train full-time while another does not. It’s impossible to entirely nullify human unfairness, and though to some extent it’s a noble and worthwhile goal, this concept must also be applied to the technology-enhanced athletes competing in the Paralympics.
Sport without discrepancy is not sport. Discrepancies allow for underdogs and comeback stories and dominate reigns. If we categorized each event according to all our minute differences every athlete in every event would cross the line at the exact same time. We don’t want that. We want clear winners and losers and we want fairness. And for this we enter a suspension of disbelief.
UPDATE: SI.com quotes an apology from Pistorius regarding his statements about Oliveira:
Paralympic officials insisted Monday that Oliveira did not break the rules and that the blades had been approved, and Pistorius said he should have waited before launching his outburst.
“I would never want to detract from another athlete’s moment of triumph and I want to apologize for the timing of my comments,” the South African said in a statement.
What do you think of Pistorius’ statements about fairness? How about his apology?