May 16, 2008

Why I think Pistorius should not be allowed to compete at the Olympics

Shocking, you say.

How could I, an unabashed proponent of human enhancement, be opposed to seeing disabled athlete Oscar Pistorius compete at the Olympic Games?

The short answer is that it's not fair to the able-bodied athletes who don't want to get into the enhancement game.

Moving forward, it sets up a situation where:
(1) able-bodied athletes will increasingly be set at a disadvantage relative to the cyber-athletes, particularly as prostheses improve
(2) able-bodied athletes will have no choice but to seek enhancement measures of their own, legal or otherwise, to remain competitive
Despite what the Court of Arbitration for Sport says, Pistorius has an advantage. A 25% advantage to be exact.

And even if we assume the Court is wrong, that the IAAF has not conclusively proven that the Cheetahs go beyond the call of normal human functioning duty, the day is all but upon us when advanced prostheses and other measures will.

Consequently, Pistorius and other disabled athletes should continue to compete against each other. This is not intended as a way to segregate athletes according to their abilities per se, but a way to create leagues in which athletes don't feel coerced into entering arms races with each other. Mirrored leagues should be set up, those in which enhancement is sanctioned, and those in which it is not. Athletes can then choose where they want to compete.

Ultimately, the end result will be to the advantage of Pistorius and those like him. They'll inherit the top echelons of sport and maintain the public's interest, while the unenhanced leagues will whither away as quaint curiosity, a throwback to how things used to be.

But until then, let's not set up a situation where chaos and ambiguity ruins it for everyone.


guymac said...

Ask Pistorious if he considers himself to be "enhanced."

Besides, with his best time being 1 second *below* the world record, he clearly is competitive, which should be the only thing that matters, rather than the 25% better theoretical figure.

Anonymous said...

How can the author of this article be so ignorant of the real issue here? The question of whether or not he can compete hinges on whether or not his prosthetics actually offer him an advantage. If they offer an advantage then there is no deal. This scenario where normal athletes have to modify themselves to remain competitive has relatively little to do with this situation. He was banned when it was determined that he did have an advantage and then unbanned when it was determined that the previous argument was flawed. Viewing this situation from the human enhancement context is a mistake. It is like that PGA ruling from a few years ago where a disabled man was allowed to use a golf cart and some of the other golfers complained this gave him an unfair advantage.

Unknown said...

Yes, but is his best time could very well be based on his actual physical ability to run. Not all of us are built to be runners and some of us are great runners, but not quite over the hump. What is Pistorious? Is he a non-runner who now can run because of his prosthetics? Or was a decent runner who now can compete because of them? You see the problem there.

Michael said...

Whether or not Pistorious considers himself is enhanced is entirely, utterly irrelevant to the fact of whether or not he is. Furthermore, the fact that he is competitive should not be the only thing that matters. To put it bluntly, a person on a bike (or motorcycle) would also be competitive but why that is not allowed is quite obvious. It is true that this case cuts close to the line, but I find George's analysis to be thoughtful.

m. s. said...

Ask Pistorious if he considers himself to be "enhanced."

The problem is not how he feels. The problem is that he is enhanced.

Besides, with his best time being 1 second *below* the world record, he clearly is competitive, which should be the only thing that matters,

Following this slippery slope, it's easy to argument for me participating at the athletics race with a bike. A bike is an enhancement of my natural leg muscles, just like Pistorius' prothesis are enhancements of his own.

Anonymous said...

I think Aeon Flux said it best, when urged by Sithandra to alter her feet: "I like my shoes."

Levity aside, I have two words regarding coercion through perceived dis/advantage: breast implants.

Even more seriously, those who have undergone even a minor operation know the pain and discomfort that accompany it, often for lengthy periods of time. We still don't know enough about the body's healing processes to undertake such modifications lightly. It's indicative that most people who undergo major surgery voluntarily are either very young and/or desperate.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this article. I think. Disabled (or enhanced)athletes should not be forced to compete only against each other, or vice versa, but this is the more fair and logical option.

I hope that makes sense.

Anonymous said...

The enhancement issue is bogus. Yes, Pistorius has an advantage, but for how long in an extremely competetive environment such as top sport? What if all he does, is just introduce a new style of running? When a female ice speed skater was the first to adopt a new ice speed skate, she promptly won the allround title in ice speed skating (tonny de jong, '95 & '96). After her obvious success, both female and male ice speed skaters were quick to follow. Exit initial advantage. One can (and should) apply the same to talented tennis players such as, say, Roger Federer.

So, again: yes, Pistorius has an advantage. Does it matter? No, I don't think so. Why you protest against an archer in a wheelchair who competed at the OS? If so, why? It doesn't matter.

Unknown said...

Your entire argument is irrelevant to this. None of the points you make actually address the issue at hand.
A new speed skate is an advantage anyone can acquire without physically harming themselves. It isn't a new limb. Pistorius, however, has new limbs. The only way regular folks can be like him is to chop off their own legs and get the same things Pistorius has. The is entirely different from an ice skate, which is easily acquired by anyone who has the money (and anyone can, in theory, get that money without physically harming themselves). So that point doesn't make any sense in this context. The advantage that Pistorius has is not something easily attainable.

As for your second point: the archer in the wheel chair doesn't have a replacement arm. He just can't walk. A person doesn't necessarily need his or her legs to shoot an arrow, so there is no advantage there due to any sort of prosthetic or device.

So, both points are irrelevant to this argument.