Time to rethink the word ‘disabled’

January 15, 2008

I’m amazed by this story on the BBC today. The ramifications are immense.

Firstly, we have a “disabled” man, Oscar Pistorius (who has no legs), being told he can’t run in the Olympics 400m sprint.

Well, duh, I hear you say. He’s disabled. Of course he can’t.

The reason is, his prosthetic limbs are so good they give him an advantage over the “normal” athletes. He uses 25% less energy to run at the same speed.

That is so cool it makes my teeth ache.

It really does go to the heart of the whole “drugs in sport” debate as well I think. I’m opposed to letting athletes take drugs to perform better if only because I think of it as a kind of cheating. Sure, different shoes, different clothes, different training regimes all offer different athletes a different set of tools to work with, but none of those (I don’t think) will actually damage their bodies, while drug taking seems to do just that.

The athletes are supposed to be the best physical specimen they can be and taking drugs, to my way of thinking, breaks that rule.

Does that mean if an athlete starts taking a drug that doesn’t cause long-term damage then it would be OK? I don’t know. Mine is not a well thought out theory.

Can we now consign “disabled” to the linguistic scrap heap?

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2 Responses to “Time to rethink the word ‘disabled’”

  1. Stephen Says:

    Dad fondly retails a story from polytech teaching days.

    If you survey the elite athletes in your sports course, and ask “would you take a drub that would kill you in 5 years but would let you win an Olympic gold medal”, a majority will say yes.

    I don’t see it as cheating so much as I see it as a public health issue, particularly when the young and stupid who are not elite athletes try to emulate them…

  2. Mysterious Dave Mather Says:

    Disabled is a term we should be constantly rethinking as technology is changing what we see as disabled. 20 years ago that sprinter could not run on those blades because they did not exist. New drugs keep people active in society when 50 years ago they would have been in an asylum. 100 years ago, if you needed glasses you could join most European armys. Now these ‘disabilities’, along with others, aren’t any major restriction.

    As for ‘Drugs in Sports’ I do see drug use as cheating.

    As you know, athletes participate in sports. Sports have rules which are designed to offer a level-playing field to all players. If one of those rules forbids “performance enhancing drugs”, that is the rule. It doesn’t really matter why the rule is in place, it can be a number of off field reasons. Perhaps as the drug is illegal the governing body decides it won’t be allowed, or the sport doesn’t want a bunch of its champions turning into self inflicted cripples as their hearts give out after years steriods use. But if it is a rule, it is a rule.

    The place where performance enhancing drugs should definitely not be used is oddly not in a sport, but what I think of as an art, Body building. Body building is about producing a particular physical form, developing each muscle to the human body’s ultimate of shape. Sort of self-sculpture. As such, steriod abuse is a cheat as it alters the boundaries of what a human body can develop. Therefore nullifying the achievements.

    Mind you, I have seen some large gentlemen I wouldn’t want to say that too.


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