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Oscar de la Pistorius?

What if a Double-Amputee Wanted to Box?

While the USA Boxing team might have been rather uninspiring at the 2012 London Olympics, South Africa’s sprint runner, Oscar Pistorius, was among one of the Olympics’ most inspiring and noteworthy participants. Pistorius, popularly known as the “Blade Runner” in the press, is the double amputee who competed in the 400 meters competition with able-bodied runners with the assistance of two Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon fiber transtibial artificial limbs. His participation was the culmination of a lifetime of athletic involvement despite his disabilities, including the winning of several gold medals in the 2008 Summer Paralympics. Pistorius was able to compete in the 2012 London Olympics as the result of a May 2008 decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which essentially held that his Cheetah Flex-Foot limbs did not give him an unfair advantage over able-bodied competitors. Pistorius subsequently qualified for South Africa’s 2012 Olympic team. The rest is history.

Pistorius’ accomplishments raise the question of what other sports similarly situated athletes may be able to compete in against able-bodied athletes, given the state of the science of prosthetic limbs. What if, for example, a double amputee wanted to box? While it may be difficult to argue that a boxer with two prosthetic hands would not have an unfair advantage over an opponent, what if he had two prosthetic legs, as Pistorius has? Could any real advantage be perceived for an otherwise capable boxer with two prosthetic legs? A quick look follows.

Could Prostheses Give a Boxer an Unfair Advantage in Movement?

While some who have witnessed bouts such as 1988 Olympic silver medalist Riddick (Big Daddy) Bowe versus 1992 U.S. Olympian Larry Donald may beg to differ, boxing is not the same as a track meet. Indeed, boxers such as American heavyweight hopeful Seth Mitchell have turned to boxing only after their lower extremities failed them in other sports. There are excellent boxers who are not particularly swift on their feet and others, such as another 1988 Olympic silver medalist, Roy Jones, Jr., who have relied greatly on their foot speed in the ring. Could prostheses turn a double amputee into Roy Jones, Jr. if the amputee had all of Jones’ other gifts? Probably not. But could they help turn an otherwise qualified disabled individual into a boxer capable of taking on able-bodied opponents if he were allowed to use them? It is quite possible they could. If this were the only aspect that a governing body would undertake, a strong argument could be made that such a boxer should be allowed to compete.

Would Prostheses Give a Boxer an Unfair Advantage as to Knockdowns?

Anyone who witnessed Jose Luis Castillo’s destruction against Diego Corrales in their epic first bout, 1992 Olympic silver medalist David Izon’s head go into orbit at the end of his bout with 1992 Olympic bronze medalist David Tua (whom Izon defeated to advance to the 1992 gold medal match), or Ramon (Yori Boy) Campas’ near decapitation at the hands of Felix Trinidad could tell you that a boxer does not need to be knocked down to be knocked out. It is tough to argue, therefore, that prostheses would definitively give a boxer an unfair advantage if they helped keep them upright. On the other hand, what if a boxer wearing prostheses was knocked to canvas? Would he be able to get up before a count of 10 as easily an able -bodied boxer, so long as his head was clear? What if one of his prostheses broke or slipped out of position as the result of a knockdown or a staggering punch? Based upon the last two hypothetical scenarios, it would appear that prostheses could actually put a boxer at a distinct disadvantage when faced with a potential knockdown. This particular inquiry thus does not seem to be as easy to answer without a further inquiry into the exact type of prostheses employed.

It bears noting here that the decision in the Pistorius matter was limited exclusively to the exact prostheses he ran with and the science behind same. Pistorius was not given carte blanche to wear whatever prostheses he wanted to when running in competitions involving able-bodied competitors. He was only cleared to wear Cheetah Flex-Foot carbon fiber transtibial artificial limbs. Likewise, perhaps a boxer with prostheses shown to be able to sustain the common challenges and rigors of a boxing match without giving the boxer an unfair advantage could be given approval to wear that exact type of prostheses into the ring.

Would Prostheses Give a Boxer an Unfair Edge in Endurance?

One of the major issues discussed in the Pistorius case was whether Pistorius expended less metabolic energy as a result of his prostheses. The Court of Arbitration for Sport was ultimately “not persuaded” that there was sufficient evidence of any such metabolic advantage in favor of Pistorius. As with the previous question, however, the answer here could turn on the science behind the exact type of prostheses employed by a given athlete. Therefore, if a double-amputee boxer were able to show that his prostheses did not provide him an unfair metabolic advantage over an able-bodied boxer of a similar height and weight, perhaps he could be permitted to box.

Some who read this column might find it patently absurd that a double-amputee would ever box or be permitted to box. But as Oscar Pistorius has shown, the state of the science of artificial limbs has now made what once seemed impossible quite possible. And Pistorius made that point in a sport that may be the single most demanding on one’s legs. Is it thus so outrageous to suggest that a boxer who is otherwise able to function with lower extremity prostheses could one day be competitive in boxing? Shoot, perhaps such a story would be exactly the type the United States could use to bring back some wonder to its amateur boxing program.

Paul Stuart Haberman, Esq. is a New York-based health and sports law attorney. He is also a New York State licensed boxing manager and the Chairman of the Sports Law Committee of the New York County Lawyers Association. Paul can be e-mailed at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . He can also be followed on Twitter at @Standing8Court.



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