4 A. Marcellini et al. / Performance Enhancement & Health 1 (2012) 3–9
We examine here the institutional and symbolic imperatives his
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.
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
The ofﬁcial Internet site of the Olympic movement (French version:
www.olympic.org.fr, English version: olympic.org.uk); and the ofﬁcial Paralympic
the sporting spectacle, as a theatrical reﬂection of our society, is
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
For an extended historical discussion see Marcellini, Vidal, Ferez, and de Léséleuc
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
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
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
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
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
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).
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
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
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
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
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
Newspaper Le Monde.fr, January 14, 2009, available on the World Wide Web:
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
A movement which now, perhaps more softly, refers to itself as H+. See on the
World Wide Web: http://humanityplus.org/ 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”.
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.
3.1. 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
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
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
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
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.
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.
Mike McNamee gratefully acknowledges the award of an EU FP7
Grant 266660 Epoch* (Ethics in public policy making: the case of
human enhancement), which supported his work on this essay.
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