Oscar Pistorius is not setting a precedent

By Jeff Dertinger, Brantford Expositor

There is an interesting debate to be had over whether double-amputee Oscar Pistorius should be allowed to run at the 2012 London Summer Olympics in a few days. But if you're having that conversation and the words “rocket boosters” or “cyborg” are ever uttered, just change the subject immediately to save the speaker any further embarrassment.

Pistorius will run the 400m dash using prosthetics called the Flex-Foot Cheetah, spring-loaded carbon fibre blades designed to simulate the action of a human leg. Scientists have studied Pistorius, and while it's widely accepted that the Cheetah prosthetic holds certain design advantages over the human leg, there is still plenty of debate over whether that fact, combined with all the other variables, adds up to a distinct competitive running advantage. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) already ruled on this issue back in 2008, deeming there was insignificant evidence to exclude Pistorius from running.

Yet the issue is still one everybody is talking about and weighing in on during the run-up to the Olympics. As stated, it's a good debate to have because it allows us to explore such concepts as fair play, competition, the spirit of the Olympics and even such existential topics as our own distinct need for conformity and order in a chaotic and disorganized world.

Unfortunately, you can't have any type of reasoned, enlightened conversation when dumb hypotheticals are introduced. In the case of Pistorius and his historic run, the most common version of this argument goes as such:

“If they allow Pistorius to compete, a precedent will be set. Who's to then stop somebody from strapping on even more advanced technology and completely shattering every record?”

This is called a “slippery slope” argument, which is a form of logical fallacy. It can be disproven in a number of ways, the easiest being to simply answer the question asked. Who will stop someone using unfair technology from competing? The governing bodies associated with each sport will, of course.

In the CAS ruling on Pistorius in 2008, the conclusion clearly states:

• It is emphasized that the scope of application of this ruling is limited to the eligibility of Mr. Pistorius only and, also, only to his use of the specific prostheses in issue in this appeal.

• It follows that this ruling has no application to the eligibility of any other amputee athletes, or to any other model of prosthetic limb; and it is the IAAF’s responsibility to review the circumstances on a case-by-case basis, impartially, in the context of up-to-date scientific knowledge at the time of such review.

It couldn't be spelled out any better than that. There is no such thing as a precedent being set. Each individual case must be reviewed and each technological advance must be scrutinized. If someone tries to run using a Wile E. Coyote rocket booster, or the Terminator travels back in time hoping to capture a gold medal, you can rest easy knowing they can still be disqualified.

There are a few irrefutable facts we know regarding this incredible athlete from South Africa, who had both his legs amputated when he was 11 months old. He uses the same Flex-Foot Cheetah that has remained virtually unchanged since 1997. Over the past 15 years, nobody but Pistorius has ever broken the 50-second mark in the 400m while using them, and he runs it in under 46 seconds. He's the only double-amputee to ever qualify for the standard Olympics, and he won an arbitration ruling in a court that examined the evidence both for and against him.

Until there is a scientific consensus as to whether Pistorius has an advantage over the competition, he deserves the right to compete just like every other athlete. Those using a dumb hypothetical to argue against his inclusion don't have a leg — spring-loaded or otherwise — to stand on.

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