Thursday, 6 September 2012

And Oscar for 'worst loser' goes to...

TO Alan Oliveira, Oscar Pistorius is “a great athlete” and “a really great idol”. To Pistorius, Oliveira’s victory in the Paralympic T44 200 metres was “ridiculous” and only happened because the blades he runs on are too long.
Brazilian Oliveira also said Pistorius was “not a bad loser”. Which was kind of him, since a bad loser is exactly what the South African sounded like.
Perhaps it’s because he hasn’t had much practice.
To be fair to Pistorius, after a night to sleep on it, he apologised the next morning. Significantly, though, he didn’t retract what he said. He said sorry only for the timing of his comments, “in another athlete’s moment of triumph”.
So what it boils down to is this: the most famous Paralympian of them all has “respect” for his opponent, but still thinks his own defeat was “ridiculous” and “unfair”.
Oh dear. It doesn’t seem quite in the true Olympian spirit, does it?
Pistorius, in his dummy-spitting poor sportsmanship, has sent a dagger right to the heart of what the Paralympics is supposed to be all about.
We’ve heard a lot these past weeks about level playing-fields and equality of opportunity.
Pistorius’s first comment after Oliveira’s victory was “we are not running in a fair race here”.
A remark which contains several levels of irony.
Irony No.1: Pistorius himself fought over several years to compete against able-bodied athletes. He was finally allowed to run against Usain Bolt and company only after persuading the authorities that his own blades didn’t give him an unfair advantage.
Irony No.2: Every aspect of the Paralympics is governed by technological advances and judgement calls designed to even out levels of disability.
You would struggle to play a decent game of basketball in a hospital wheelchair. And neither Pistorius nor Oliveira would run much of a race without their carbon-fibre blades, which aren’t much like legs, whatever length they are.
Irony No.3 (the big one): Pistorius has never known a truly level playing-field in his life.
His story is indeed remarkable. Having had his lower legs amputated before he was a year old, he went on to play water-polo, cricket and tennis at school, took part in triathlons, wrestling and boxing.
In one school rugby game, he was heading for the try-line when an opponent tackled him hard – and came away clutching one of Pistorius’s prosthetic legs. While the defender presumably reeled in shock, Pistorius hopped to the line and scored.
That is indeed true grit and exemplifies exactly why so many athletes with disabilities – and those without – regard Pistorius as an inspiration.
But there’s another side to all this.
Pistorius was born in a country then still regulated by apartheid. His white parents were wealthy enough to send him to one of South Africa’s poshest schools.
And while he surely lived up to the school motto, Virtute et Labore – translated, loosely, by the school itself as “Through Courage and Labour” – he equally surely had every possible assistance to do so.
If the playing-fields of Pretoria Boys High School had been truly level, young Pistorius would have had to share its advantages with thousands of township boys.
Or perhaps with some of the estimated 12,000 landmine-victim amputees in neighbouring Mozambique.
The greatest challenge facing the organisers of Paralympic sport is to try to make it as fair as they can.
They do it through the category system, which is immediately and obviously riddled with inconsistencies.
For example, T44 means “single below-knee amputation or moderately reduced function in one or both legs”. Yet Pistorius is surely T43 – “double below-knee amputees and other athletes with impairments comparable to a double below-knee amputation”.
I like Pistorius’s own motto: “You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”
I also like what his parents apparently told him: “A loser isn’t the person that gets involved and comes last, but the one who doesn’t get involved.”
But life dishes out many more disabilities than the purely physical ones. And not everyone gets the opportunities to get involved.


SO Archbishop Desmond Tutu believes Tony Blair and George W Bush should be arraigned at the International Criminal Court at The Hague for war crimes over the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Well, it’s only what many people, including me, have been saying for the past nine years.
But when it comes from a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and famously one of the nicest people in the world, maybe it’s time for the world to take note.
However, when he says the Iraq war left the world more divided than “any other conflict in history” he calls into question his own grasp of history.
World War II, anyone? We’re still feeling the aftershocks, 67 years after it supposedly ended. Indeed, Iraq itself could plausibly be described as one of them.


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