7 July 2014

South Africa: Oscar Pistorius and the Paradox of the Disabled Super-Athlete

Photo: Phill Magakoe/Sapa
Star sprinter Oscar Pistorius is seen at the High Court in Pretoria.


"I'm not disabled," Oscar Pistorius told a British journalist in 2005. "I just don't have any legs." Throughout his athletic career, Pistorius has sought to downplay the impact of his disability. Now, however, his future may depend on emphasising its significance. Last week, the issue of Pistorius's disability took centre stage in his murder trial. It is now clear that a major pillar of Pistorius's defence will be the psychology of vulnerability that accompanies his disability. Yet the treatment of disability by his defence team has not been greeted with huge enthusiasm by some disability rights groups.

Back in the day, Oscar Pistorius took every opportunity in public to soft-pedal his disability. A 2007 New York Times article reported that Pistorius refused to park in disabled bays. "I don't see myself as disabled," he told the journalist: a sentiment he has expressed elsewhere on numerous occasions. "There's nothing I can't do that able-bodied athletes can do."

Two years previously, in an interview with the Telegraph, he rhetorically queried: "Anyway, what is disabled?"

"Some people view themselves as disabled because they have one or two disabilities," Pistorius continued. "But what about the millions and millions of abilities they...

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