Oscar Pistorius makes history as first amputee athlete selected for the Olympics

The "Blade Runner" has been picked for South Africa's 4x400m team.

Oscar Pistorius has made history today by getting selected for South Africa’s 4x400m Olympics relay team. He will become the first amputee track athlete to compete at the Games. He came very close to qualifying for the individual 400m, missing out by less than a quarter of a second in his final qualifying race.

Pistorius was born without lower leg bones, and runs on crescent-shaped carbon fibre blades known as “Cheetah Flex-Feet”. Last year, he became the first amputee athlete to compete in the World Athletics World Championships, where he made the 400m semi-final.

The issue of whether his prosthetic limbs give him an unfair advantage over able-bodied athletes has been fiercely debated throughout his career. In 2007, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) amended its competition rules, banning “any technical device... that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device”. The IAAF denied that the amendment was specifically aimed at Pistorius, although it did prevent him from competing against able-bodied athletes at top-level meets. However, the decision was overturned in May 2008 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which found that there was no evidence that Pistorius’ prosthetics gave him a net advantage over his competitors.

It was this ruling that paved the way for today’s selection. There will still be dissenters – those who feel that Pistorius should have to compete only in the Paralympic Games – but with the CAS ruling behind him and a relay qualifying time under his belt, there is nothing stopping him now. Now that he’s proved that performance is really the only criteria, Pistorius could well be just the first in a series of amputee athletes who make their nations’ squads. Whatever his athletic achievements turn out to be, he’s made history just by getting selected.

Pistorius is hugely popular in South Africa. And given that his compatriots came home from the Beijing Olympics with just one athletics medal, at least one whole nation will be cheering if the “Blade Runner” strikes gold.

 

Oscar Pistorius competing at the Paralympic World Cup in May 2012. Photograph: Getty Images

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.