The attorneys who represent Oscar Pistorius recently received an Olympic thumbs-up from a warm-and-fuzzy body of thinkers in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Pistorius is the 21-year-old South African who runs the 400-meter race with the aid of J-shaped “Cheetah” blades. He was born without fibulas and underwent amputation below both knees at 11 months old.
The International Association of Athletics Federations ruled against Pistorius competing in the Beijing Games in January. Its decision was reasonable enough.
Pistorius is not an able-bodied competitor, and his prosthetics give him a competitive edge. He competes at a high level only because of the technological advances in prosthetics.
It is not even necessary to debate whether his prosthetics grant him a competitive advantage. The IAAF believes they do. What is not open to debate is the Olympic events have been previously restricted to the able-bodied, while those with physical and mental disabilities compete in the Paralympics.
The decision-making process of the three-member panel undoubtedly was infiltrated by the politically correct dictate of inclusiveness.
The CAS insisted it could find no “metabolic advantage in favor of a double-amputee using the Cheetah Flex-Foot.”
It also said: “The CAS panel has considered that the IAAF did not prove that the biochemical effects of using this particular prosthetic device gives Oscar Pistorius an advantage over athletes not using this device.”
The key word in the CAS-inspired mumbo jumbo: device. However difficult it may be to quantify its potential advantageous effects, it is clear the CAS has altered the playing field by allowing a competitor to use a pair of man-made aids.
It is equally clear the CAS has set a precedent that could end up haunting the body. More advances in prosthetics are apt to be made. What might the CAS say if the “Cheetahs” are tweaked and enhanced in the next four years?
Consider the changes golf and tennis have undergone because of the technological advances on equipment. What if these advances benefited only one competitor?
While Pistorius may have no metabolic advantage because of the prosthetics, he does have one noticeable advantage: the absence of lower-limb injuries that undermine the training schedules of the able-bodied. That makes him part bionic man.
None of this is intended to minimize the inspirational dimension of the Pistorius saga.
He deserves the globe’s cheers and praise. He is a testament to man’s capacity to persevere in the clutches of true adversity.
Yet it is wrong to fiddle with the starting line merely because of the compelling nature of his story.
It is true that Pistorius has not met the Olympic-qualifying standard of 45.55 seconds. His Paralympic world record in the 400 is 46.56.
Yet even if Pistorius is unable to meet the qualifying time in the weeks ahead, the South African track and field committee still could add him to its 1,600-meter relay team as a public relations ploy.
That would allow television network executives to produce one of those weepy profiles in courage. You know the script. It features the athlete who inevitably overcame several diseases of the week, five or six dead grandmothers and miraculously survived being struck by a train the week before the start of the Olympics.
The sentimental sorts with CAS must be privately hoping that Pistorius never measures up to the world’s top quarter-milers between now and the London Games in 2012. If he ever does, an outcry would be understandable, especially if he earned a medal that otherwise would have gone to the fourth-place finisher.
It is doubtful you ever could sway the fourth-place finisher to the feel-good side of the debate.