The Par­a­lympics cheat­ing scan­dal

The Week Middle East - - News -

The Par­a­lympics have come a long way since the 2000 Syd­ney games, when a Span­ish wheel­chair bas­ket­ball team took gold de­spite ten mem­bers hav­ing no dis­abil­i­ties what­so­ever, said Oliver Brown in The Daily Tele­graph. The sport’s once-hap­haz­ard “pre-test­ing” pro­ce­dures have “evolved beyond recog­ni­tion”. Yet de­spite such im­prove­ments, the sys­tem still isn’t “fit for pur­pose”. Last week, Tanni Grey-Thomp­son, a for­mer wheel­chair racer, claimed that Bri­tish ath­letes have been mak­ing a mock­ery of the process by ex­ag­ger­at­ing their dis­abil­i­ties. Oth­ers went fur­ther, sin­gling out Par­a­lympians by name: Hannah Cock­roft, a wheel­chair racer, and So­phie Hahn, a sprinter with cere­bral palsy, were both ac­cused of com­pet­ing in the wrong cat­e­gory.

This isn’t just a Bri­tish prob­lem, said Martha Kel­ner in The Guardian. Around the world, Par­a­lympians have been re­sort­ing to all sorts of chi­canery: tak­ing Val­ium be­fore a test, or rolling around in the snow, wear­ing only swimwear, to make them ap­pear weaker than they re­ally are. “The scan­dal here is not just that the clas­si­fi­ca­tion has been abused,” said David Walsh in The Sun­day Times. It’s also the way ath­letes who tried to speak out have been treated: Bri­tish of­fi­cials al­legedly threat­ened them, warn­ing that they would be booted off teams or stripped of fund­ing. But the prob­lem doesn’t just re­side in of­fi­cial­dom, said Ben Bloom in The Daily Tele­graph. It lies in the fact that it’s so hard to cat­e­gorise dis­abil­ity, or de­fine “sim­i­lar lev­els of lim­i­ta­tion”. Vis­ually im­paired run­ners com­pete in three classes, T11, T12 and T13; swim­ming has ten classes. This means the Par­a­lympics can never be “en­tirely fair”, as ev­ery ath­lete “suf­fers their dis­abil­ity to dif­fer­ent de­grees”. It also means that, given the sheer num­ber of classes, the sys­tem will al­ways be ripe for abuse.

Hannah Cock­roft: ac­cused

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