An Exceptional Message

The South African athlete, Oscar Pistorius, a double leg amputee, who is competing in the World Athletic Championships, is worthy of genuine admiration.

Viewers of the World Athletic Championships taking place in South Korea have focused in the last few days on the failure of the world champion, world-record holder and Olympic gold medalist Usain Bolt, who made a false start in the final 100-meter run and was disqualified.

But worthy of genuine admiration for his physical ability, and mainly for his willpower and emotional strength, is the South African athlete, a double leg amputee, Oscar Pistorius. Pistorius, who runs on carbon fiber blades, advanced to the 400-meter semifinals.

Oscar Pistorius of South Africa - Reuters - August 29 2011

Pistorius is an inspiring example of the desire to break through barriers and of exceptional courage. After he handily won four medals in the Paralympics, Pistorius, whose legs were amputated below the knee after a childhood illness, asked to participate in races against able-bodied athletes. Senior officials in the world of international sports, exhibiting conservative thinking, opposed him. Pistorius did not give up and set out on a public legal battle, which he won. He thus proved that he was endowed not only with physical strength and impressive athletic capability, but also with unusual determination.

Pistorius stubbornness sharpens the discourse in two areas. The first is the very definition of sports disciplines. Is sport an expression only of physical ability or also of aesthetics and mental strength? Why will the Olympics to take place in London next year include horse riding, synchronized swimming, archery and fencing? Do these really deserve to be called branches of sport? And if so, why not include chess or poker? The answer is history, tradition, conservatism, and in particular, political power struggles and wheeling-dealing.

The second issue is the question of whether there is still room to differentiate between people with disabilities and those without them. It may be that the disabled should be allowed, if they desire, to participate in the Olympic Games and world championships of the able-bodied. All this, of course, without ignoring our moral and social duty to cater to the weak and disabled, and to stop both overt and concealed discrimination.