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Chris Ford: Oscar Pistorius - the end of a disabled hero

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Chris Ford
Chris Ford

 The arrest of Oscar Pistorius, the blade runner of Paralympic and Olympic fame, on murder charges has the potential to bring down a great disabled people's hero.

A hero who represented the ideal of equality for disabled people. The ideal that we could be respected and not just tolerated. The ideal that we are human beings worthy of dignity and rights.

In saying this, I am aware that not all disabled people are like Oscar Pistorius and nor can we be. If I were to use a non-disabled example, the average person can't be a Carl Lewis either - although many people would like to be.

This is why Pistorius, despite the appalling allegations, has been a man who has turned Paralympic sport from being considered just an Olympic afterthought to being a major sporting event in its own right.

Now, due to the allegations being made against him, his career stands on a knife edge. Indeed, the allegations are serious and demonstrate another inequality issue that faces all societies - that of mainly male upon female violence.

I am aware that domestic violence can involve not just man on woman violence, but woman on man. It can occur within same sex and heterosexual relationships. The perpetrator can be a person of any gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, class, age, or (as in this case) disability. Their victim(s) similarly.

However, in the majority of domestic violence cases, it's male on female violence. Sometimes this ends in the most tragic of outcomes as the South African authorities have alleged as much in the killing of Pistorius's girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his home.

These allegations will have to be tested at trial. Even though I live in far off New Zealand, we and South Africa have similar legal systems where the presumption of innocence stands after charges are laid. This is why I will respect the legal process with respect to Pistorius's case and not pass comment on his guilt or innocence.

Needless to say, the shocking allegations highlight the need to tackle violence around the world. Sadly, the same violence that is alleged to have claimed Steenkamp's life (even if it is found to be through an accidental shooting) won't cease even though every peace loving person wishes it. It will take a huge effort on the part of government and civil society to eradicate violence, both domestic and non-domestic, from the face of the planet.

In saying this, I also urge people to stop using Pistorius's arrest as a way of expressing disablist sentiment. Sure, people will have strong views about what he is alleged to have done but the cracking of online jokes and negative comments about his physical impairment is just not on, regardless of the serious offence he has been charged with. As a disabled person, I take grave offence at that type of behaviour or sentiment, regardless of who it is being aimed at!

For Pistorius, irrespective of the outcome, it seems that his sporting career could well be over. And Pistorius's arrest could constitute one of the biggest falls from sporting grace that could well rank alongside former cyclist Lance Armstrong's own fall from grace.

A once great hero has fallen and been exposed as a mere mortal. Pistorius being exposed as a mere mortal means that his darker side could be the only thing we remember him for, whether he is convicted or not. Lance Armstrong now knows the reality of being just that - and Pistorius could be the next idol to experience his fate, albeit, for a non-sporting related folly.

 

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