Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Disability and Sport

On the weekend I attended an excellent event at Manchester University - the "Disability and Disadvantage" Practical Philosophy Workshop. There were a number of interesting talks and discussions on a range of issues from the different accounts of disability and autonomy to concerns of cost effectiveness and the non-identity problem. I really enjoyed it.

As this workshop was going on Manchester was also hosting the Visa Paralympic World Cup 2007. The NY Times has this interesting piece about amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius from South Africa. Pistorius had both legs amputed when he was only 11 months old. Now 20, he can run the 100 meter sprint in 10.91 seconds. But to do so he relies on two carbon fiber blades attached to his legs. Pistorius wants to be able to compete for the next Olympics. Should he be able to compete with athletes who use their natural legs? Here are some snippets from the article:

....Pistorius is also a searing talent who has begun erasing the lines between abled and disabled, raising philosophical questions: What should an athlete look like? Where should limits be placed on technology to balance fair play with the right to compete? Would the nature of sport be altered if athletes using artificial limbs could run faster or jump higher than the best athletes using their natural limbs?

....“I pose a question” for the I.A.A.F., said Robert Gailey, an associate professor of physical therapy at the University of Miami Medical School, who has studied amputee runners. “Are they looking at not having an unfair advantage? Or are they discriminating because of the purity of the Olympics, because they don’t want to see a disabled man line up against an able-bodied man for fear that if the person who doesn’t have the perfect body wins, what does that say about the image of man?”

....“These have always been my legs,” [Pistorius] said. “I train harder than other guys, eat better, sleep better and wake up thinking about athletics. I think that’s probably why I’m a bit of an exception.”

One who is attempting to broaden the definition of an Olympic athlete.

“You have two competing issues — fair competition and basic human rights to compete,” said Angela Schneider, a sports ethicist at the University of Western Ontario and a 1984 Olympic silver medalist in rowing.