Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Should an amputee sprinter be allowed in the Olympics? There was a profile of him recently in Wired, and I thought the topic raised interesting issues about ethics and sports and technology, which deserve careful consideration. And apparently Elio Locatelli of the I.A.A.F, which is opposed to Oscar Pistorius' presence at the Olympics, also gave the matter serious though:
“With all due respect, we cannot accept something that provides advantages,” said Elio Locatelli of Italy, the director of development for the I.A.A.F., urging Pistorius to concentrate on the Paralympics that will follow the Olympics in Beijing. “It affects the purity of sport. Next will be another device where people can fly with something on their back.”
Of course, it seems so simple now: If we allow someone who doesn't have legs to use something to stand in for said legs, it's exactly the same as strapping on jet packs and heading straight for the high jump. Exactly. I remember, awhile back, the Paralympic Games were on T.V., and for the longest time I thought they were showing that movie, Rocketman.

I should be thankful for Locatelli's bone-headed comment, as it just goes to highlight the error of the slippery slope fallacy. Yes, we can allow Pistorius to compete in the Olympics without fear of healthy athletes cutting off their legs for a competitive "advantage" (ignoring for the moment the evidence showing that Pistorius is clearly at a disadvantage to naturally bipedal opponents). Because we're humans, with brains and judgment and stuff, and can understand the difference between adapting to a disability and self-mutilation.

There's a fair amount of work to be done, to study the biomechanics of an amputee runner and develop standards for prosthetics in competition, but it looks like I.A.A.F. is unwilling to explore the matter seriously (which is odd, considering the power of such a feel-good story to bring up sagging Olympic ratings). Here's hoping Oscar Pistorius makes it to Beijing.

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