Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Pistorius Effect

[Cross-posted from my Care to Elaborate blog]

A lot of discussion has been going around regarding Pistorius. Should he or shouldn't he be allowed to compete for a spot in the Beijing Olympics? If he makes it, should he or shouldn't he be allowed to compete. There’s concern over what this will do to sports in general; what kind of message is it sending out to others; and how it could throw off future comparisons within the sport, making some sports records incomparable.

In Art Caplan’s Opinion piece, he discusses Tiger Woods' laser eye surgery and how he now has better than 20/20 vision. This surgery allows him to continue to compete with vision, not just without glasses or contacts, as with the first surgery, but better than that. Caplan says, "That's why it cannot just be "advantage" that determines whether someone can use technology to compete. The deciding factor is whether something confers a significant, not a slight advantage."

But what about the other sports, like Major League Baseball? What about those players who have gotten the Tommy John surgery? Have these individuals been enhanced, do they have an unfair advantage to those that have not have the surgery? Or what about those players who like Tiger Woods have gotten the laser eye surgery, and are able to tell the difference between a curve ball and a fast ball better than others.

Caplan goes on

"We don’t expect to compare the performances of today to those of the ancient Greeks, but we do expect some ability to compare what happened today to be compared with what happened yesterday, a year ago, a decade ago or even 50 years ago.

It may be fascinating to see who can go the fastest on rocket-powered legs or throw a heavy weight the farthest using performance-enhancing drugs, or genetically engineered muscles. But what you have then is an exhibition or a show, not a sport. In some ways, this is what the professional wrestling and no-rules body building already are.

To be a sport you need something approximating a fair playing field, some boundaries on the attributes of those who compete so they are comparable to one another and some ability to compare today’s performance with those in the not-so-distant past.

That is why I am not sure Oscar Pistorius should compete.

He may not have a marked advantage, but his artificial limbs make him too different from those he competes against, and too unlike those who have raced before. It's not about giving him an opportunity. The issue is that Pistorius risks destroying exactly what he wants to do — compete in a sport."

The previously mentioned surgeries also offer advantages over both today and yesterday’s competitors. Situations arise where an athlete seriously injures himself and, with modern technology, instead of having to retire they are put back together. By putting them back together, and in some cases, back on the playing field as they were before or even better, technology is playing a part in the sports world. A search for 'surgery' on CBSsports.com produced 47,500 results, I acknowledge that not all of these individuals were undergoing corrective or elective surgery to return to the game, but it is still quite a lot.

There is discussion because he has an unfair significant advantage. He’s disabled and he can keep up, maybe not yet qualify, but he can keep up, regardless of his disability. The concern mimics the perspective I had of the American Gladiator. An average guy breaks the boundaries and competes, but hope is that the next competitor will be above average with potential to blow everyone else out of the water. Then, there is the potential for an unfair competition with not everyone being able to get or, rather, need the legs. It’s better to keep the competitors separate, the Paralympians and the Olympians, so they are on a level playing field.

The significant advantage everyone’s examining is still there for those willing to play regardless of the competition in the Olympics. Pistorius and others like him can still compete in the Paralympics with their “advantage”. Will the athletes of the Paralympics also be comparable within the past 50 years? Can the artificial limbs of 50 years ago be comparable to those of today in competition? Is the Paralympic committee ok with all of this lack of comparison or are their records already taking into account the differences in technology?

I have two scenarios; granted there could be more, please share them.

Scenario 1:

Pistorius competes in the Beijing Olympics, he places whatever. Others like him are inspired and also try out. Not guaranteed a position based on sympathy, but on capability, like everyone else. Those who can meet the competition minimums will compete, those who can’t won’t.

Scenario 2:

Pistorius competes in the Beijing Paralympics, he places whatever. Others like him are inspired by his attempt to participate in the Olympics as a result try out for the Paralympics. Not guaranteed a position based on sympathy, but on capability, like everyone else. Those who can meet the competition minimums will compete, those who can’t won’t.

Technological advances are driven by demand. Those who are already amputees are going to want better ones. Those who compete are going to want faster ones. Where will these individuals be competing? I go back to

“It may be fascinating to see who can go the fastest on rocket-powered legs or throw a heavy weight the farthest using performance-enhancing drugs, or genetically engineered muscles. But what you have then is an exhibition or a show, not a sport. In some ways, this is what the professional wrestling and no-rules body building already are.” (Emphasis added)

The Paralympics is an arena to compete in sports, even though they allow Cheetah Flex Foot for competition. Maybe they have an interesting show in their future.

“To be a sport you need something approximating a fair playing field, some boundaries on the attributes of those who compete so they are comparable to one another and some ability to compare today’s performance with those in the not-so-distant past”

The Paralympics offer a fair playing field for those with artificial limbs like Cheetah Flex Foot; where the Olympics offer a fair playing field for those with limbs (oh, and the special external technological advances they have, i.e. special swimsuits, clothing, shoes, and equipment. Which with the demand to be better will also advance)? Knowing that we aren’t going to get rid of artificial limbs like Cheetah Flex Foot, and knowing they are going to make an impact somewhere, which competitive arena will they be allowed to affect and advance?

1 comment:

Kim said...

Scenario 3

Pistorius competes in the Bionic Olympics. This competition would be for anyone with bio-engineered body parts that are deemed to enhance the person’s athletic ability beyond the current “natural” standard for the sport in which they are competing. He places whatever. Others like him are inspired by his attempt to participate in the Bionic Olympics as a result try out for the Bionic Olympics. Not guaranteed a position based on sympathy, but on capability, like everyone else. Those who can meet the competition minimums will compete, those who can’t won’t.

-K~