‘I may get leg amputated to make Games’
Bates told he no longer fulfils wheelchair basketball criteria Team GB member says he has ‘wrong type of disability’
One of Great Britain’s reigning world and European champions in wheelchair basketball has said he may have his left leg amputated to compete in the Paralympics after receiving the devastating news that his disability does not meet impairment criteria.
George Bates, a member of Team GB, who are favourites for a Paralympic gold medal in Tokyo next year, is registered disabled and has suffered from complex regional pain syndrome since the age of 11.
This has caused muscle wastage, restricted movement, loss of power and, as well as the constant lifelong pain, he has been unable to walk unaided for the past 15 years. However, as revealed by The
Daily Telegraph in January, the International Paralympic Committee had threatened to exclude wheelchair basketball if certain athletes were not reassessed against their classification code, which lists only 10 categories of impairment.
That assessment took place in March and Bates was informed this week that, despite playing professionally in Italy and Spain for the past six years, and being part of the UK Sport-funded British wheelchair basketball team since 2017, he was ineligible.
Bates had been given the option of having his leg amputated when 14 and is now ready to reconsider that decision so that he can pursue his dream of a Paralympic medal. He will first appeal the decision and is also ready to take legal action.
“It’s madness,” Bates said. “The email I got acknowledged my disability, but basically said it was not the right type of disability which, in my eyes, is quite discriminatory. You can’t define disability in 10 categories. You can’t have a 10-point tick box. There are thousands of disabilities and every case tends to be different. I am fully registered as disabled in the UK.
“I use a crutch to get about. I am in constant pain in my left leg. I have not walked unaided for 15 years. I can’t play any able-bodied sport. I can’t ride a bike. This is the only sport I can do and I am at no advantage on the court. When I was
14, I had the option to get my leg amputated. Now I am thinking maybe I should have had it done. If I had, I would be eligible. What’s the rationale behind that?
“Amputation would be a serious consideration. I have given my whole life to the sport since I was 17. The only thing I have ever wanted to win is a Paralympic medal. I would have to amputate above the knee. I wouldn’t be able to wear a prosthetic because of the pain.”
Bates’s condition is pain-based and, according to the IPC’s criteria, that is regarded as a non-eligible impairment.
The International Wheelchair Basketball Federation has been embroiled in a long dispute with the IPC about eligibility.
Bates said there were other wheelchair players with “both legs, no amputation, who train their legs and ride bikes” who had passed the test. “Pain doesn’t count in their criteria but I thought the other problems – my muscle wastage and impaired range of movement, which is part of their criteria – would get me through.”
He added that the IPC, “which attempts to base its brand around equality and inclusivity”, was “discriminating against athletes who don’t meet its narrow-minded view of what it means to be disabled”.
Although the IWBF agrees that Bates’s condition can lead to permanent impairments, it said the IPC’s guidance recognised CRPS as a health condition, but, crucially, not an underlying health condition. The code of 10 impairment classification was agreed at the IPC’s 2015 general assembly, but the IWBF also has its own classifications which recognise Bates’s disability.
A spokesperson for the IPS said it was “sympathetic”, but that the classification code “clearly states that complex regional pain syndrome is a health condition that does not lead to an eligible impairment” for Paralympic participation.
“We have been working with all international federations to ensure they fully implement and abide by the rules of the code,” said the spokesperson.
The IWBF said that the reassessment process was not its choice and had been “demanded” by the IPC so that wheelchair basketball could remain in the Paralympics. President Ulf Mehrens said that it would lobby for a review.
Philip Pratt, the Team GB captain, said. “Discrimination towards any athlete who has a clear and permanent disability simply because he does not fit into a perfect view of what is meant to be disabled should not be tolerated in 2020.”
Constant pain: George Bates suffers from complex regional pain syndrome, but has been told he is not eligible for the Paralympics