‘Dev­as­tated’ Bates pre­pares for le­gal bat­tle over ban

Wheel­chair bas­ket­ball player stunned by Par­a­lympics rul­ing over his con­di­tion and is now con­sid­er­ing am­pu­ta­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Jeremy Wilson

Grow­ing up in Le­ices­ter­shire, Ge­orge Bates al­ways loved sport. Foot­ball, golf and cricket were his main pas­sions, but life would for­ever change at the age of just 11 fol­low­ing a seem­ingly in­nocu­ous but chronic in­jury. The twisted an­kle that he sus­tained dur­ing a foot­ball match would not heal and, for two long years, he could not put any weight on his left leg and there was no def­i­nite ex­pla­na­tion.

Com­plex Re­gional Pain Syn­drome was even­tu­ally di­ag­nosed and, fol­low­ing a month in hospi­tal in Bath, much of Bates’s child­hood years were spent at­tend­ing ses­sions with phys­io­ther­a­pists, hy­drother­a­pists and psy­chol­o­gists. “It was a chaotic time – I had my life turned up­side down,” he says.

The in­jury also prompted se­ri­ous and pro­longed men­tal health chal­lenges to the ex­tent that he was “in a po­si­tion where I was con­tem­plat­ing if I wanted to carry on with my life”. But from the age of 13, Bates also be­gan to re­dis­cover sport in the form of wheel­chair bas­ket­ball. And, while the daily pain from what is an in­cur­able con­di­tion will re­main life­long, the psy­cho­log­i­cal change would be­come trans­for­ma­tional. “Men­tal health-wise, it was the best thing that could have hap­pened,” he says. “I met other dis­abled peo­ple for the first time and re­alised that you can still carry on. I saw peo­ple who had been through worse and it was, ‘Wow, I can get through this’. It was a dif­fi­cult time but bas­ket­ball gave me an out­let. It gave me hap­pi­ness. I had al­ways loved sport and I re­ally strug­gled with not be­ing able to do any­thing. I didn’t think I would ever be able to do any­thing or achieve any­thing when I got my in­jury. It opened my eyes to the fact that you can still achieve things with dis­abil­ity. It dragged me out of a dark pit.”

The im­pact of his dis­abil­ity was clear: mus­cle wastage, loss of power, an in­abil­ity to walk unaided and the need to use a chair over long dis­tances.

The dis­com­fort also meant that he was of­fered the “heart­break­ing op­tion” to have his left leg am­pu­tated but, with CRPS be­lieved to be a con­di­tion that is linked to the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem, there was no cer­tainty of any im­prove­ment. There was also still the prospect of some lim­ited fu­ture move­ment.

Bates’s school grades were good enough for univer­sity, but he was in­vited on to one of the Great Bri­tain wheel­chair bas­ket­ball ju­nior teams at the age of 17 and he has since played and trained full-time. A three-year spell in Italy has been fol­lowed by two years in Spain, where he now plays for the Mideba club in Bada­joz. Now 26, Bates has also re­ceived fund­ing from UK Sport for the past four years and has be­come one of the stars of the Bri­tish men’s team that re­spec­tively won the World and Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships in 2018 and 2019. Wheel­chair bas­ket­ball also be­came one of the pop­u­lar Par­a­lympic sports in Great Bri­tain fol­low­ing the London 2012 Games and, as well as a sig­nif­i­cant par­tic­i­pa­tion boom, an event in which Team GB’s ob­vi­ous medal po­ten­tial at­tracted £7.2 mil­lion in Lot­tery fund­ing dur­ing this cur­rent Tokyo cy­cle. A ma­jor in­ter­na­tional row,

how­ever, had been brew­ing be­hind the scenes. As re­vealed in Jan­uary by

The Daily Tele­graph, the In­ter­na­tional Par­a­lympic Com­mit­tee had told the In­ter­na­tional Wheel­chair Bas­ket­ball Fed­er­a­tion that the en­tire sport would be thrown out of the Games if it did not re­assess the ath­letes who were clas­si­fied among the least im­paired. The two gov­ern­ing bod­ies have dif­fer­ent rule books and Bates flew back to the UK in March for his as­sess­ment. The IPC does not recog­nise pain-based con­di­tions, but Bates had thought that the re­lated phys­i­cal con­se­quences of his dis­abil­ity would sat­isfy its 10-point im­pair­ment code.

“It was a con­cern to start with but I saw some of the other play­ers and thought, if they have passed the test, then I am not par­tic­u­larly wor­ried,” he says. “There were peo­ple far more able than I am.”

The coro­n­avirus lock­down then came and, with most of his be­long­ings still in Spain, Bates has been liv­ing with his girl­friend in Rother­ham and un­able to train for the past four months. “We were sup­posed to find out in May what was go­ing on and it got de­layed,” he says. “I should have found out in June and there was a fur­ther de­lay be­cause I had been left off the list. Then I was ex­pect­ing to hear last Fri­day and was told at 4.30pm they were still re­view­ing it. I then got an email on Tues­day to say I was in­el­i­gi­ble.”

Bates feels like he has been the vic­tim of a dis­pute be­tween the IPC and the IWBF but points out that “the pun­ish­ment” is all be­ing ab­sorbed by the ath­letes. “It’s hard to take in – I’m dev­as­tated,” he says.

Although Bates is the only Bri­tish ath­lete af­fected, there are eight other wheel­chair bas­ket­ball play­ers from other coun­tries who have so far been deemed in­el­i­gi­ble. “I will be head­ing down a le­gal route – there is a lot of talk about join­ing up and a multi-ath­lete com­plaint,” he says. “I have had hun­dreds of mes­sages of sup­port and peo­ple with sim­i­lar dis­abil­i­ties, younger gen­er­a­tions, are urg­ing me to fight it.”

There is a 30-day win­dow in which he can ap­peal and, even if that is un­suc­cess­ful, there is still

‘I have had hun­dreds of mes­sages of sup­port and peo­ple are urg­ing me to fight it’

the prospect of play­ing for his club in IWBF events, which may still op­er­ate to a dif­fer­ent im­pair­ment cri­te­ria. Bates’s dream, how­ever, has al­ways been the Par­a­lympics.

“As hor­ri­ble as it is, I have to be re­al­is­tic and look at all these is­sues and sit­u­a­tions,” he says. “I have never had a nor­mal job. I’ve not got that work ex­pe­ri­ence. I’ve ded­i­cated my­self to wheel­chair bas­ket­ball. I’d have to work out what I would do long term.”

Am­pu­tat­ing his left leg would be one op­tion and, while he says that he would “have to speak to my family about it”, it has been a gen­uine con­sid­er­a­tion. The over­rid­ing urge, though, is to fight on, and his pop­u­lar­ity and im­por­tance within the Bri­tish team was last night un­der­lined. “Wheel­chair bas­ket­ball is a torch-bear­ing Par­a­lympic sport whose whole ethos is built around in­clu­sion,” said the cap­tain Philip Pratt. “This de­ci­sion to me leaves a big hole in that mantra and a big­ger hole in a team we have all given much of our lives to. Some­thing has to change.”

Best of Bri­tish: Ge­orge Bates (right) in ac­tion for his coun­try in 2017 and (below left) with Ter­ence Bywater af­ter win­ning the world ti­tle a year later

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.