Challenging human and sporting boundaries the case of oscar pistorius


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Límites humanos y deportivos Desafiando el caso de Oscar Pistorius

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Challenging human and sporting boundaries the case of oscar pistorius

  1. 1. Performance Enhancement & Health 1 (2012) 3–9 Contents lists available at SciVerse ScienceDirect Performance Enhancement & Health journal homepage: Challenging human and sporting boundaries: The case of Oscar Pistorius Anne Marcellinia,∗ , Sylvain Fereza , Damien Issanchoua , Eric De Léséleuca , Mike McNameeb,∗ a Laboratoire “Santé, Education and Situations de Handicap” [Health, Education and Disabling Situations], JE n◦ 2516, Université Montpellier 1, France b College of Human and Health Sciences, Swansea University, UK a r t i c l e i n f o Keywords: Sport Disability Human enhancement Technology Social categorisation Inclusion a b s t r a c t The controversy surrounding Oscar Pistorius’s disputed eligibility for Olympic participation serves here as a focal point for a number of debates regarding the ethics of human enhancement, conceptions of ability and disability, and the transformative effects of technology upon the nature of sports competition itself. A world beating Paralympics athlete, Pistorius attempted to gain eligibility to represent South Africa in the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. An account is given as to the process of his initial rejection, based upon scientific experiments that argued his performance was unacceptably “boosted”, and the subsequent successful appeal that undermined the scientific basis of the judgement while leaving unchallenged the deeper question of the role that biotechnology might play in transforming athletic performance. We show how what began as an eligibility dispute in the sports arena, became a political debate that raised fundamental questions about how society at large regarding the place for “technological” and “enhanced” humans, and of performers of exceptional ability. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. 1. Introduction: A sports controversy that went beyond the world of sport At the beginning of the 21st century a man who would have been considered infirm just 50 years ago, challenged widespread social norms and sports law in particular, leading to a lengthy question- ing of sports institutions and their rules. In fact, for several years now, Oscar Pistorius, a South African Paralympic athlete, has been the subject of a continuing debate. The so called “Pistorius affair” started with the Athens Paralympic Games (2004) when this athlete reversed the sports order instituted for the first time by winning races against the best paralympic athletes in the category “single tibial amputation” (Paralympic category T44), while he was actu- ally a “double tibial amputation” athlete (Paralympic category T43). This fact has been the subject of less discussion, which is an inter- esting point in its own right. Nevertheless, more widely covered by the sports and general press1 is the issue regarding the legitimacy of his taking part in elite able-bodied sports. ∗ Corresponding authors. E-mail addresses: (A. Marcellini), (M. McNamee). 1 According to the Factiva data base, 5909 press articles reporting on Oscar Pisto- rius were published in various languages from September 2004 to December 2008 (including 5305 between January 2007 and December 2008). In France, over the two years 2007 and 2008, 53 articles were devoted to him in five newspapers, out of 294 press articles on the Paralympic Games, in other words 18% of the total (Figaro, Midi Libre, Libération, Le Monde, Les Echos). Oscar Pistorius was born in 1986 with a physical anomaly, or more precisely a malformation of fibulae and feet, which prevented him from walking. When he was 11 months old the doctors sug- gested to his parents that a double amputation below the knee would enable him to use prostheses and learn to walk. Equipped with these artificial legs, he led an unremarkable childhood, went to school, played various sports, and when a teenager, started playing organised rugby. His very early experience with motor deficiency and the use of prosthetic limbs significantly reduced the disabili- ties that might have been the consequence of his deformity. At 17, he took up athletics, and equipped himself for running – like most other similarly disabled athletes – with “Flexfoot” (more gener- ally referred to as “Cheetahs”) a high technology racing prostheses incorporating a carbon fibre blade. After training as a high-level athlete, he soon overturned all sprint records established in the Paralympic games, before aspiring to the heights of competing internationally in elite “able-bodied”2 400 m races and claiming admission to “ordinary” sports competitions, as a result of his exceptional ability and dedication.3 Thus it was that a controversy began about his case which was to expand on a remarkable scale. 2 The term “able-bodied” used here refers to the current terminology used in France in particular, by those having motor disabilities, to designate those without motor disabilities. 3 We also note that during the process of this publication, Pistorius was allowed to compete with able bodied athletes at the 2011 world athletics championships in Daegu, South Korea. He successfully qualified through the first qualifying round but came last in his sem-final. This is clearly a historic achievement. 2211-2669/$ – see front matter © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.peh.2011.11.002
  2. 2. 4 A. Marcellini et al. / Performance Enhancement & Health 1 (2012) 3–9 We examine here the institutional and symbolic imperatives his case raises. What issues are raised by this athlete’s request to take part in “ordinary” sports competitions? What is the peculiarity or sin- gularity of his case compared with other disabled athletes who excel? What are the reactions and arguments put forward and the positions taken by various protagonists in the face of this appar- ently “disturbing” case? What sense can be made of the sports authorities’ response to him? What does his case tell us about our conception(s) of “human boundaries”? In response to these questions we adopt a casuistic approach (Passeron & Revel, 2005), iterating between general norms and the particular case we have chosen to highlight. A casuistic approach rejects the idea of general norms that can be deductively applied in all cases (Jonsen, 1995). It pays particular attention to the specific singularities of the sin- gular case at hand, with the aim of exploring particularities of the “Pistorius case” while moving to and fro between more general impacts on disability, the sports spectacle, and the subject of defin- ing “human boundaries” in contemporary society. Through this case study we intend to bring out the symbolic dimensions of the institution, showing how various rationalisations were constructed and disputed to arrive at a decision regarding Oscar Pistorius. To achieve this, required the bringing together of data from various institutional sources, media reportage, and information published in various scientific literatures. 2. Methods The institutional sources were mainly documents produced by the Olympic and Paralympic organisations, as well as work (Auberger, 2005; Bailey, 2007) conducted in respect of these sports movements (the Olympic Revue, official Olympic and Paralympic sites4 and the report by the Court of Arbitration for Sports/Tribunal Arbitral du Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland. Our analysis will concentrate on the practices and the discourse relating to “dis- abled” athletes and more specifically on the subject of “disabled” athletes taking part in the Olympic Games and the transformation of its organisational method over time. The press data examined reportage by the French national daily press (Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération) concerning the controversy created by the Pistorius case, as published from 2004 to 2008. Sports-specific press reporting was eschewed since we were seek- ing to understand the tenor of this controversy through national press coverage and beyond the specific sports and sports media world. The contents of the press data (30 articles) were analysed in order to bring out the arguments used in the daily press to foster this controversy and disseminate it outside the sports world. Finally, the scientific literature dealing with the Pistorius case is used to illus- trate how the scientific world became inextricably linked in the debate. This analysis shows how scientific and ideological currents were marshalled in the controversy. The analysis situates the “Pistorius case” within the framework of relations between disability sport and the Olympic movement, in order to throw light on his particular case. The examination of this background shows how Olympic institutions controlled, well before the Pistorius case, involvement by athletes with disabilities in the Olympic Games in an organised and progressive campaign. We argue that one reason for the very public nature of this debate is because brought into question the nature and significance of sport and the symbolic representation of the Human Being that 4 The official Internet site of the Olympic movement (French version:, English version:; and the official Paralympic site: the sporting spectacle, as a theatrical reflection of our society, is staged. 2.1. Case Background: The history of “disabled” sports categories and their mode of participation in Olympic Games5 Understanding the controversy raised by Pistorius’ desire to participate in able-bodied sporting competitions requires a prior appreciation of the Paralympic movement and its relations with the Olympic movement. Pistorius is far from being the first athlete with a bodily or sensorial deficiency to take part in the Olympic Games. The purpose of these remarks is to situate eligibility debates of ath- letes with a disability within able-bodied sport. The Pistorius case cannot be seen to have initiated these debates ab initio, although a new dialogue emerges because of his particular attributes and the technology he utilises. Before the Paralympic Games were institutionalised in 1960, it is possible to identify, from the historical records of the Olympic and Paralympic movements, three Olympic athletes who fell into this category (Auberger, 2005; Bailey, 2007). George Eyser is the first figure of renown found in the annals of the International Olympic Committee, a one-legged gymnast who, in the Saint Louis Olympic Games in 1904, won six Olympic medals in gymnastics (parallel bars, horizontal bar, climbing rope, vault and pommel horse, and full competition of four tests), three of them gold. Next, Karoly Takacs (1910–1976), a Hungarian pistol shooter with his right hand amputated, won a gold medal for pistol shooting in the 1948 Lon- don Olympic Games, and then took part in the Helsinki Games in 1952. Lastly, the Danish athlete Liz Hartel, paralysed in both legs from the after effects of poliomyelitis, took part in the 1952 Helsinki Games, where she won a silver medal in the individual dressage. It was the first time that the Olympic Equestrian events were open to women riders, and Liz Hartel is remarkable therefore; with an impairment of her lower limbs, she was the first women to compete in the equitation, and against men. She subsequently participated in the Melbourne Games in 1956. The physical anomalies of these athletes were anecdotally reported at the time though we now know little of the route they had to follow to enable them to take part in the Olympic Games. Before the 1960s, the idea of “handicap” was seldom used (as it is today, notably in Scandinavian countries) to indicate the “dis- abled person” describing all those affected by an impairment of any sort.6 For this reason, these athletes were not described as “disabled athletes”, but simply classified by their physical handicap, in other words their “impairment”. In 1960 the first official Paralympic Games were held in Rome, following various Stoke Mandeville Games – the first sports com- petitions reserved for those with motor deficiency were held in 1948 at the hospital of the same name (see Jespersen & McNamee, 2008). From this time onward, athletes with motor (and later sight) impairment took part in increasing numbers in the Paralympic Games which were to be held every four years. In 1984, Neroli Fairhall of New Zealand, a paraplegic athlete, was the first Paralympic athlete in a wheelchair to take part in the Olympic Games in Archery. Beyond her Olympic performance (35th place) it might be said that her greater achievement was in being 5 For an extended historical discussion see Marcellini, Vidal, Ferez, and de Léséleuc (2010). 6 In France, in 1957 the term “disabled” appeared officially in the designation of a category of the population, that of “disabled workers”: Law no. 57-1223 of 23 November 1957 on the employment classification of disabled workers, defined as such in article 1:“Are considered as a disabled worker to benefit from the provisions of this law, is any person whose possibility to acquire, or to retain a job is effec- tively reduced following an insufficiency or a reduction in their physical or mental abilities.”
  3. 3. A. Marcellini et al. / Performance Enhancement & Health 1 (2012) 3–9 5 the first athlete to make the transition from the Paralympic (having previously competed in the 1972 Heidelberg and 1980 Arnhem Par- alympics) to Olympic participation. She returned to the Paralympic circuit in 1988 (Seoul) and later in Sydney (2000). It is noteworthy however, that her Olympic/Paralympic participation was not con- current: she alternately participated as either an athlete with an impairment or and able-bodied athlete. At no time did she simul- taneously compete in both events during the same year. It appears that the question of whether her performance was unjustly assisted was not raised in a formal way. Nevertheless, there is frequent mention in the literature of a slightly comic anecdote. When we asked her if she thought that firing from a sitting position gave her an advantage, Neroli replied: “I don’t know. I have never fired an arrow other than when seated”.7 Her achievement of 35th place is not inconsequential in the context of an official lacuna or silence regarding the ethical aspects of the later debate. In 1982 her poten- tial advantage went largely without question while Pistorius’s case became headline news around the world. The principal of employing an exclusive category was to be confirmed a few years later by the case of Marla Runyan, a sight impaired U.S. sprinter who won four gold medals (100 m, 200 m, 400 m and high jump at the Barcelona Paralympic Games in 1992) and a gold in the heptathlon at the Atlanta Paralympic Games (1996). Having met the qualifying times required for the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, she was the first Paralympic sight- impaired athlete to run in the Olympics and achieved eighth place in the women’s 1500 m final. She subsequently participated in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, running in the 5000 m. What is inter- esting is that her transition to elite able-bodied sport, like Neroli Fairhall, occurred at the time her performances were registered in the same zone as Olympic competitors. From these two cases, we can see the transition from one cat- egory to the other – but not belonging to both at the same time – leaves intact the hierarchical organisation of the classification. Thus when a Paralympic athlete becomes an Olympic athlete they cannot at one and the same time be considered both, according to a principal of taxonomical exclusivity. De Pauw (1997) interpreted this phenomenon as an “obliteration” of the disability in the sense that the “transition” led to a sort of invisibility of the disability, only to be evoked subsequently as an anecdotic, a peripheral aside. It should be noted here that the Olympic institution extricated itself from employing a strictly medical definition of “disability” (an ath- lete with impairment is a “disabled athlete” or more commonly these days we refer to “athletes with a disability”) to adopt a rel- ative definition of disability if, and only if, their performance was inferior to those of athletes without impairment; otherwise ath- letes are considered under the description “able-bodied athlete”). Such an approach effectively ignores the disability while preser- ving the hierarchical organisation of designated categories in which athletes are either labelled “disabled” (athletes with a disability) or “able-bodied”. The end of this binary sporting logic disappeared in the 2008 Games in Beijing, when two athletes competed concurrently in the Paralympic and Olympic Games. Nathalie Du Toit, a South African amputee swimmer, won five gold medals and a silver at the Athens Paralympic Games in 2004. In 2008, in Beijing, she was classed 16th in the 10 km freestyle swimming in the Athens Olympic Games and carried off five gold medals at the Paralympic Games. Simi- larly, Natalia Partyka, a Polish table-tennis player, whose forearm 7 This anecdote relates to her first victory in a valid international competition in 1982, the 12th Commonwealth Games in which she carried off the gold, see the article: The 12th Commonwealth Games (1982, no. 182). Olympic Revue, p. 763. The story is retold in various summary presentations of the athlete, in institutional documents. had been amputated, having won a gold at the Athens Paralympic Games, was selected for the Beijing Olympics in the team event, and then competed in the Paralympic Games, winning a gold medal. It is interesting in both cases, relatively unheralded by the world’s sports media, the participation of these two athletes in the Olympics did not require any environmental or regulatory alter- ations, or the use of a technological body-device. This cursory historical analysis shows that the Olympic authori- ties have coped with the issue of dual eligibility first by developing and then gradually amending, the definition of the “disabled ath- lete” category in relation with that of “able-bodied athlete”. In this way they ensured that a coherent classification organised with a sports rationale provided a hierarchy between both categories. This hierarchy has been established and maintained in a way that has avoided drawing attention to the problematic assumptions regarding the privileging of abled over disabled categories. There are neither details about the double participation, nor any formal comment at all from either Olympic or Paralympic organisations about the athletes who participate in Beijing session at both events. Rather, there is an institutional silence. Given the amount of ink spilt on the Pistorius case one could be forgiven for thinking that the particularities of the case were without precedent, but this would represent historical ignorance as we have noted above. Nevertheless, Pistorius’ successive exploits after the Paralympic Games of 2004 merit sustained scrutiny in order to draw out some fundamental views of the nature of sports and sports performance held by powerful sports institutions in the debate concerning “human boundaries”. 2.2. From competitive equality to “technological dependence”? In order to provide for a satisfactory discussion of the (re)presentation of human boundaries within sport it is necessary to give a fairly detailed chronology of the course of events. 2.2.1. The first controversy at the Athens Paralympic Games (2004) Oscar Pistorius first took part in the Athens Paralympic Games (2004). Aged just 17, he won the 200 m gold medal and the 100 m bronze against more experienced opponents with a single tibial amputation (Paralympic category T43), despite the fact that he had a double (trans)tibial amputation (Paralympic category T44). This sudden incursion, associated with an unprecedented performance for a double tibial amputee, brought Pistorius to the attention of the whole world of Paralympic sport. Interestingly it was an American athlete, Marlon Shirley, who started the controversial ball rolling. Having been dethroned as the Paralympic T43 champion Shirley remarked in the journal “Liberation” that “The size of his prosthe- ses increases the length of his stride. This effect was already known in the (then called) “handisport” world as early as 2004. While the devices of his “single amputee” adversaries could not exceed the length of their own leg, Pistorius is accused of having taken advan- tage of his double amputation to artificially increase his height.” (Hirsch & Mathiot, 2007). Shirley became an outspoken detractor: “Pistorius wants to run in 20 seconds? We’re going to see a guy 2 m tall run [200 m] in 20 seconds. That’s cool, but it’s not sport, it’s an exhibition. I’m not convinced he’ll help handisport” he remarked. Thus Pistorius, who would be understood under “the” med- ical model as having greater impairment than athletes (single amputees) with lesser disabilities, challenges assumptions about the wisdom of sports ability hierarchies derived from medical (functional) models. But the tensions within Paralympics sport became evident too, though not at an official level (i.e. by the IPC).
  4. 4. 6 A. Marcellini et al. / Performance Enhancement & Health 1 (2012) 3–9 2.2.2. From hesitation to exclusion In 2004, Pistorius made known his intention to take part in “able-bodied” athletic events. He began by competing with the able-bodied in his own country, and in 2007 he finished second in the national 400 m athletics championship in South Africa. He was spoken of in the French press as a young man who did not see himself as disabled, since the significance of “incapacity” and “disadvantage” associated with these terms was foreign to him. He then made a formal request to enter international athletics com- petitions. His request was at first accepted by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). The press reported their response thus: “Through the good offices of Elio Locatelli, former trainer, doctor of physiology and development director at the IAAF, the international authority that provisionally confirmed the right of Pistorius to compete with the able-bodied, is carrying out tests on the athlete and his prostheses.” The public relations director of the IAAF was reported in the press as attempting to take the heat out of the controversy, basing his approach on empathy, closeness and cooperation with the athlete, as well as having recourse to sci- ence, and expects that objective findings will result: “This is not a battle. Oscar’s dream of taking part in the Olympic Games is under- standable, but in the absence of precedent, we are examining the facts to be sure that his prostheses do not give him an advantage, and he is contributing to this.” (Cédric, 2007). One unforeseen event, which would go on to complicate mat- ters, was his rapid performance improvements: Pistorius finished second in the 400 m Athletics Golden Gala in Rome on 13th July 2007, beating a group of elite professional able bodied athletes. The management of the IAAF sought to understand and explain this ‘natural-hierarchical’ reversal using their own reference system: positive science, measurement, sports law and ethics. Pistorius’s race in Rome was filmed by a team from the Sports Sciences Insti- tute of the Italian Olympic Committee, the work being overseen by Locatelli (IAAF). Yet the tone of empathy dissipated and on 15th July 2007 the press published a sharp reaction by Oscar Pistorius and his trainer. Nick Davies, spokesperson for the IAAF, explained in Le Monde that the research was conducted jointly with the athlete. The South African team denied this: “They are doing their research by them- selves and we have no idea of the basis they are using,” said Pistorius. “The position they’ve taken is offensive and discrimina- tory” (Jolly, 2007). In this hostile environment, the IAAF invited an independent sci- entific institution with the task of analysing this hitherto unknown performance, thereby reaffirming that the debate was actually about the scientific validation of sporting fairness or unfairness. Thus Peter Bruggeman, Professor at the Institute of Biomechan- ics at Cologne University was engaged to lead a team to carry out experiments to in/validate any potential performance advantage for Oscar Pistorius (typically referred to as “boosting”) resulting from the use of the “Cheetahs”. He concluded that there was a “mechanical advantage” of more than 30% for an athlete using these prostheses over athletes without prostheses. The investigation also indicated that Pistorius could further improve his performance, as he was already running at the same speed as his competitors with a 25% lower energy output (IAAF, 2008). From the point of view of biomechanical and physiological assessments it seemed the issue was scientifically settled. The IAAF, cited rule 144.2, ratified in March 2007, prohibiting the use of any technical device that incorporates springs, wheels or any other element that provides the user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device. Based on Bruggeman’s study IAAF held that the Cheetah’s gave an advantage to him and that he would no longer be authorised to take part in competitions run under IAAF rules (IAAF, 2008). This decision was announced on 14th January 2008. On 15th January 2008, the press headlined the news of the “prohibition”: “Oscar Pistorius prohibited from the Olympics” (Libération), “The ‘legless sprinter’ prohibited from the Olympics” (Le Figaro). Le Monde only mentioned the issue in its on-line edition8: “The amputated athlete, Oscar Pistorius cannot take part in the Beijing Olympics with the able-bodied.” The press underlined the scientific nature of the data on which the decision was based and focused on the reception of this information by the athlete. The latter who “dreamt of taking part in the Olympics”, the IAAF that “refused the young man the opportunity to run” and Pisto- rius expressed his intention to contest the decision by all possible means; “[He] is contesting the decision and will appeal.” “[He] is very disappointed by the decision.” The racing prostheses used by Pistorius were thus seen in a new light by the press: carbon “blades”, “carbon-fibre swords”, “technical aids”, the “Cheetah”. The evidence that a prosthesis is by definition a technical aid only exists in the world of persons with disabilities and in motor rehabilitation. In the world of sport, a “technical aid” is now defined more precisely as “a technical device which gives the athlete an advantage by comparison with one who does not use such a device”, and it was therefore prohibitable for this reason. In this way, after the IAAF’s decision in January 2008, the controversy took a new turn. Pistorius, now excluded from the “able-bodied” sports circuit, began to mount a legal defence. At the same time, the debate in the French press extricated itself from its previous approach of awaiting the IAAF decision, to take up a better argued, more radical position and members of the research com- munity took part in the debate (biomechanic specialists and sports doctors, disability studies and bioethics, philosophy and sociology in particular) (see Burkett, Potthast, & McNamee, 2011; Edwards, 2008; Jones & Wilson, 2009; Van Hilvoorde & Landeweerd, 2008). 2.2.3. From exclusion to appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport Since 1984, the CAS in Lausanne is the place where international sports disputes typically are resolved. They received Pistorius’ offi- cial petition on 20th February 2008. They summarised in four points the issues on which the athlete sought an opinion (CAS, 2008): “Did the IAAF council exceed its rights by taking the decision to exclude Mr Pistorius? Was the process that led to the IAAF decision weak or defective from the point of view of the procedure followed? Is the IAAF decision discriminatory and thus illegal? Is the IAAF decision incorrect when it considered that the use of the Cheetah Flexfoot by Mr. Pistorius is contrary to rule 144.2?” Perhaps unsurprisingly the CAS refuted the accusation of dis- crimination by the IAAF. This might have been foreseen in the manner in which its ruminations had been circumscribed. It argued that the Convention for the Rights of the Disabled implies enabling athletes with disabilities to take part on an equal basis in sports activities and that this is precisely the reply the CAS must give: Yes or no – does Mr. Pistorius compete on an equal basis with athletes who are not using the Cheetah Flex-Foot? Given the physiological and biomechanical boosting evidence the answer had to be “yes”. But the lawfulness of the exclusion is one thing, the ethical and political dimensions another. 2.2.4. Is sports exclusion discriminatory towards athletes with disabilities? One interesting turn in the controversy arose within the context of scholarly debate regarding how issues to do with exclusion (or potential discrimination) might reflect on the role of technology to 8 Newspaper Le, January 14, 2009, available on the World Wide Web:
  5. 5. A. Marcellini et al. / Performance Enhancement & Health 1 (2012) 3–9 7 challenge the concept of humanness or human integrity where per- sons with disabilities utilised significant and complex technology conjoined with their bodies. Swartz and Watermeyer (2008), and Wolbring (2008) each challenged the idea of human essentialism in their own ways. It was, more strongly suggested, that persons using such technology might in some way be being denied their humanity as a result of technophobic stigmatism. One element of philosophical and bioethical debate that was discussed linked the use of technology to fairly radical movements such as “posthu- manism” or “transhumanism”,9 which promote new possibilities for technological transformation of the human body (McNamee, 2007). In more than one place, the use of technology was consid- ered as a new and potentially worrying case of Prometheanism. The context for discussion surrounding Oscar’s eligibility thus became even more complex. It could be argued that Oscar Pistorius himself contributed, knowingly or otherwise, to this problematic. He appeared in a Nike advert, staged against a black backdrop, supported by his two rac- ing prostheses, in a futuristic one piece body-hugging suit with a first person by-line in which he defines himself as a “thing”: “I was born without bones below the knee. I only stand 5 ft 2. But this is the body I have been given. This is my weapon. How I conquer, how I wage my war. This is how I have broken the world record 49 times . . . How I become the fastest thing on no legs. This is my weapon; This is how I fight.” Quite who the opponent was for such a fight was not clear: other athletes, paralympic athletes, or the IAAF. 2.2.5. Sports exclusion for reasons of “technological doping” The original sporting exclusion of Pistorius was according to the Court of Arbitration of Sport justified in virtue of the use of prohibited “technical aid”. While the IAAF remained cautious, only speaking of “the advantage provided by prosthetic limbs” and referring to rule 144.2, the press rapidly made the link between “technical aid” and “doping”, reporting such terms as “cyber doped” (Hirsch & Mathiot, 2007), arising from interviews with athletes, and scientific articles using the term “technodoping”. In the article “Oscar Pistorius veut défier, avec ses prothèses the athlètes valides” [Oscar Pistorius wants to challenge able-bodied athletes with his protheses], 30 June 2007 in Le Monde, a Para- lympic athlete is quoted: “He [Pistorius] has gone from a little over 49 seconds to 46 seconds 56 in less than three years. If an able bod- ied [athlete] achieved such a performance, it would be said that he was doped.” To what extent is this just conceptual confusion, journalistic sloppiness, or the casuistic manipulation of doping defi- nitions? The French sports code’s definition of doping runs: “Doping is considered as the use of substances or procedures of a nature to artificially change the abilities of an athlete or to mask the use of substances or procedures having such a property.” Using this def- inition, a technical aid is by its nature a procedure that artificially changes the abilities of the impaired athlete using such a device and might reasonably be considered as “doping”. In this situation, Pis- torius, now classified as a “technologically doped” athlete, sought a second scientific opinion to be presented before the CAS, with the primary purpose of trying to reopen the issue of “advantage” provided by his prosthetic limbs. The association with the issue of doping is particularly note- worthy since it is charged with heavy moral overtones. Among the cacophony are distinct discourses: the discourse on equitable sport, on health, and on “purity”. Disentangling the scientific, ideological, economic and political discourse is one of the major character- istics in the analyses of the sports doping phenomenon. From a sociological perspective the debates Oscar’s eligibility raised must 9 A movement which now, perhaps more softly, refers to itself as H+. See on the World Wide Web: accessed 28.23.11. be understood contextually. The initial judgement against Oscar must be seen alongside the prohibition of doping products or pro- cesses in competitive sports even though in broader society there is much greater use and acceptance of enhancement techniques. How we are to understand the tension between broad social accep- tance and their rejection in sports is a moot point (Laure, 2009; Louveau, Augustini, Duret, Irlinger, & Marcellini, 1995). It may eas- ily be seen as a defence mechanism against the anxiety caused by the exaggeration of the principle of human performance, of the transformative potential of biotechnology, or of excessive indi- vidualism (see Erhenberg, 2000; Habermas, 1973; Taguieff, 2001). In adopting, declaring or concealing these postures within sports policy or law, sports may oddly proclaim a certain self-conceived purity where the use of certain ergogenic practices are prohibited. It might be suggested that the motivation for this is a misplaced Utopianism that attempts to preserve an idealised vision of the social sphere marked by the harmonious cohabitation of perfor- mance values, technology, and progress, with the values of health, naturalness, fairness, solidarity, fraternity, ethics and humanity. The case of Pistorius also impacts on a particular dimension in the definition of doping that is not officially explicit, but is often put forward by the athletes themselves: that of identity. In fact, an examination of the representations and definitions of “real dop- ing” among high-level athletes has shown that for them there is a fundamental distinction between doping procedures perceived as questioning the biological identity of the athlete (this is “real doping”) and that which does not affect it (Marcellini, de Léséleuc, Ferez, Le-Germain, & Garcia, 2005). Analysing these ethical posi- tions of athletes shows how the definition of “real doping”, which is condemned from their point of view, is closely tied to the actual definition of a champion, which is firstly “he who has the qualities”, “he who has a gift”, “he who is predisposed”. Thus, the champion is in essence, a “gifted being”, in other words someone who has apti- tudes that are above average: the gift is the natural, the biological, the hereditary, the genetic. But it is also, in this representative sys- tem, the “natural” environment of life that gives “natural qualities” to the individual, just as living at high altitude and running daily are associated with the “natural” qualities of Ethiopian middle distance runners (de Léséleuc & Marcellini, 2005). “Real doping”, from this time on, is that which falsifies human being, their primary identity, that which modifies the “natural” biology of the human, and for this reason that ruins the system which places the “natural” values of human beings in a hierarchy (see Culbertson, 2007). It is precisely this “technological hybridity” concerning Pistorius that is under the spotlight here; it appears to challenge the sporting rationale of a comparative and hierarchical organisation of the diversity of natural human abilities. Leaving behind the potential classification of “doped athlete” and entering that of “champion” meant that Pistorius has had to navigate his way through an administrative procedure to provide proof that his sports performance was meritocratic and not techni- cally boosted. He declared: “This type of prostheses has been used for fourteen years by other athletes who have never achieved my performance. This is proof that I owe my results to my talent and my work.” (Hirsch & Mathiot, 2007). To defend his position, Oscar Pistorius commissioned other U.S. researchers to present a balanced analysis brought out the dis- advantages linked to the use of racing “blades” such as a slow start, slowness during the first phase of the race and the difficulty of mastering trajectory, particularly on bends (see also Edwards, 2008). This second-assessment, the so-called Houston Report, con- cluded in favour of Pistorius and was presented to the CAS. Amidst protestations that, somehow, Pistorius had bought a new scientific opinion favourable to his case (Tucker & Dugas, 2008) with the aid of the Icelandic prosthetic company Össur, whose marketing slogan is “Life without limitations”.
  6. 6. 8 A. Marcellini et al. / Performance Enhancement & Health 1 (2012) 3–9 Notwithstanding these allegations, the CAS report held that the issue raised many problems and irregularities in the IAAF’s man- agement of the early scientific assessment and in the dissemination of Basing its ruling on the Houston report, on 16th May 2008, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) held that Pistorius was eligi- ble to compete with the able-bodied and thus to take part in the Olympic selection procedure for the Beijing Olympic Games. In bas- ing its judgement on the flawed IAAF procedures and incomplete science, the arbitrators could not be viewed as setting a precedent in jurisprudential terms. As it turned out, Pistorius – though eligi- ble to compete for Olympic participation for his native South Africa, failed in his bid to achieve the compulsory qualifying time either for the individual event or the relay team. Notwithstanding this, he went on to win three gold medals (100 m, 200 m, 400 m) in the Bei- jing Paralympic Games and is currently in training for the London 2012 Olympic Games. 3. Conclusions 3.1. Sport, technology, humanness In the analysis of the Oscar Pistorius situation developed here, Pistorius’ case caused a major problem for the sports by conjoin- ing two previously unknown factors: first, by raising the spectre of potentially superior performance compared by an athlete with disabilities over able-bodied athletes at the absolute level of sport- ing excellence; and, secondly, that this performance was produced using a technological device that replaced a human body part. In so doing the Pistorius case broke new ground: he was, in effect, a “compound” athlete: he is both human and machine. His athlete’s body, unlike that of other “Paralympians” become “Olympian”, appears to be a hybrid of humanness and high technology, and it is in this context that the issue of his “status” subsequently arose. As a technological hybrid, his participation in the sports circuit for athletes with disabilities went unquestioned. In this social arena bringing together athletes with widely different impairments, the legitimacy of the repair or of the best possible technological com- pensation for the impairment would be difficult conceptually to distinguish and therefore legitimately to challenge. It is perhaps not surprising then that the sports world, guarantor of a theoretical equality of opportunity in competitions, hesitated to recognise his legitimacy in the field. The technological and human “compound” that he is as an athlete, challenged instituted sports categories: categories by age, sex, and weight have already been provided for – but how should Pistorius be categorised? The extended hesitancy of different sports authorities involved in his request, as discussed above, show that Pistorius is seen as an “unclassifiable” case for sports law, which enables human bound- aries to be situated in the institutional sports imagination. The athlete with impairment, running “bare-bodied” is however, as we have shown, considered by the sports authority as legitimate. It is obvious that these athletes suffer an “anomaly” or a deficiency in their biological bodies but they can be considered biologically speaking as “pure”, natural. That the “anomaly” is also a differ- ence in the biological body and noted as a deficiency in relation to a theoretical organic integrity, or that this difference is consid- ered an advantageous biological “singularity” in respect of the norm (like the difference in height of Usain Bolt’s calceneum, thought in part to explain his exceptional performance10), in both cases, the divergence in the biological realities of the human body and the dif- ference in performance that this leads to makes sense in the sports 10 We are indebted to M. Pierre Legreneur, researcher in biomechanics with the CRIS team in Lyon, for having brought to our attention the scientific debate by sport biomechanics regarding Usain Bolt, at the CRIS seminar of 8 January 2009. rationale. Yet, a technical aid, perceived as an artificial transforma- tion of the athlete’s biological identity, is associated with doping and rejected as a transgression of the ideal of fair competition, of “biological purity” or “nature” that reigns in the sports competition. The sports spectacle is discredited by the ricochet from any sort of doping, since it is tainted by deception, falsehood, or impurity and is no longer a measure of human endeavour in a biologi- cal order. Yet, from the view point of the spectacle, doping is rather more of an issue since it is directly visible and therefore not debateable. Doping by means of pharmacology, blood manip- ulation, genetics or surgery (e.g. the replacement of tendons or ligaments by synthetic material, artery enlargement, etc.) is more or less discernable, always the subject of discussion but invisible to the spectator. In this sense, it can be the subject of games of strategy, as it guarantees an increase in the level of performance while being able to pass as “natural”. This is why the athlete with a device can be considered a significant personification of the loss of meaning in the sports spectacle. 3.2. Pushing the limits of human nature (but only in traditional ways) In summary, the theatrical metaphor used by Bromberger (2004), and the analysis of the symbolic dimensions of the specta- cle conducted by Sperber (1974, 1975) may be suggestive. Similarly, to the idea of sport as a morality tale about the limits of humanity and the nature of goodness or purity (McNamee, 2008), it reveals the function that sports have as public ceremonies. It seems that the sports spectacle is a cultural institution by means of which Humans are invited to think symbolically of, and to display or perform, the relationship between different categories of Humans and Human relationship with their own biological limits.11 Thus sports institu- tions today, by initially refusing Pistorius on the grounds of being “technologically doped” and by persisting in its battle against dop- ing in general, appears as an institution that pushes extraordinary humans to the limits of their biology. Paradoxically, it seems to say to athletes, coaches, sports physicians and scientists, “challenge the limits of humanness but do so in an exclusive, traditional, human way”. Nevertheless, now that it has accepted Pistorius’s performances within the boundaries of its spectacle, its purpose appears funda- mentally to have changed. From a spectacle inviting thought on the symbolic confrontation between the Human and their biologi- cal limits, we may be passing to a new stage in which the Human surpassing biological boundaries by unchecked transformation, to the spectacle of the “enhanced human”. This change in the sports spectacle desired by posthumanist currents supports the thesis of the ineluctability of human enhancement by new technologies. It is precisely this change in the nature of the sports spectacle that is feared by many and that is expressed in the discourse on contra- vening the “purity of sport”. The “purity of sport” is personified by the biological “purity” or “naturalness” of those taking part in a sports performance. And this “purity” has nothing to do with biological “normality”. What- ever way we characterise elite athletes, they are outliers in the species range. In this sense they too are far from “normal”. Nev- ertheless, neither anomaly nor organic impairment changes the symbolic dimension of sport. Quite the contrary, it enriches it by exhibiting the immense diversity of “natural” humanity in its unex- pected ability to optimise its aptitude, up to the point of showing its limits. 11 This is to say nothing of constructed events such as the South African rugby player, Bryan Habana, who raced a cheetah recently to raise awareness of campaigns to preserve endangered species.
  7. 7. A. Marcellini et al. / Performance Enhancement & Health 1 (2012) 3–9 9 Technoscientific modification and the technological additions to the body however, muddy the impact of the sport spectacle, erasing the limits that it would demonstrate and signify. One of the prag- matic proposal to the fear of “muddying”, as suggested by Lippi and Mattiuzzi (2008), as well as Wolbring (2008) (for a considered discussion of Transhumanist fare, see Bostrom & Sandberg, 2009) would be to set up an “open” sports category where the question of “naturalness” of the athletes is no longer an issue. But this “cate- gory innovation” has not yet been envisaged by sports institutions. Whether it will be in the near future is a moot point. Perhaps it is merely an analogue of the proposals to have games where doped and no-doped athletes competed alongside each other, which has been mooted since the early days of anabolic steroid driven perfor- mances (King, 2011) but that only taken root in some powerlifting sports (Todd, 2009). Certainly, some Western academics seem to be increasingly vocal about the emergence of this new category of hybrid humans whether through art, entertainment, or the sport- ing display of biotechnological innovations. The aim of this paper has been to show how the Pistorius debate is not simply a matter of determining the boundaries of meritocratically conceived athletic excellence but rather a pressing ethical and social debate turn- ing on the question of the distinguishing between repairing and/or enhancing the human in the pursuit of (sporting) excellence. Conflicts of Interest The authors declare that there have no conflicts of interest with regard to this essay. 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