‘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’

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Exclusive By Jeremy Wilson CHIEF SPORTS RE­PORTER

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

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