Disgraced Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has sparked scorn and anger among disabled commentators in the UK, and accusations of hypocrisy, after he used his impairment as an excuse for killing his girlfriend.
Pistorius was cleared of murder this week, but found guilty of culpable homicide for killing Reeva Steenkamp in his home in Pretoria, South Africa, on 14 February 2013.
He has always admitted shooting Steenkamp through the door of his bathroom, but claims he mistook her for an intruder. He is due to be sentenced on 13 October.
During the trial, he claimed that the reason he shot four bullets into the door – rather than calling for help or checking that his girlfriend was OK – was due to anxiety caused by his impairment.
But this was the same Pistorius who previously told journalists: “I’m not disabled. I just don’t have any legs.”
And many disabled people have been quick to point this out, in the wake of his conviction.
Presenter, broadcaster and writer Mik Scarlet said on Twitter: “So sad that a ‘hero’ who was held up as an ‘inspiration’ and who denied his #disability used it in his defence case.”
He added: “A man who claimed to have no disability discovered it as soon as it was useful. Not so inspirational now eh?”
The disabled activist and blogger Lisa Egan replied: “Someone lost their life and all of a sudden one of the fastest men on earth is all ‘I can’t run!'”
She added: “Disabled ppl are castigated enough and now he and his lawyer are trying to claim that impaired mobility makes you so ‘vulnerable’ that you turn [into a killer] at the sound of a pin dropping.”
Dr Sarah Campbell said on Twitter: “Was so angry with his defense. V damaging to all other disabled ppl. As for role model, think non dis ppl liked him more than us!”
And Rosemary Frazer tweeted: “The ‘crip’ defence revolts me, as it does when anyone plays on it. It diminishes us all.”
In a blog for Channel 4 News, disabled journalist Kate Ansell agreed. She said it was “quite an about-face for a man who had always attested that ‘you’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have’, and who wanted to run with the mainstream athletes, not the disabled ones”.
She said the trial should have been about Reeva Steenkamp, domestic violence, “men who kill their partners, and irresponsible use of firearms”, but instead had “all been about Oscar Pistorius, disability, and yet another of his extraordinary deeds”.
But some were slightly more forgiving of Pistorius’s courtroom tactics and his earlier actions.
Ian Macrae, editor of Disability Now, warned on Twitter that it was “difficult and dangerous to judge how anyone would react in such a situation, let alone someone whose impairment and culture we don’t share”.
Another disabled journalist, Paul Carter, said: “Defence team in a murder trial are going to play every card they have available though surely? However unpalatable.”
The disabled counselling psychologist and relationship therapist Simon Parritt tweeted: “What is the cost of trying to PROVE superhuman abilities in order to conceal disability… society dominates the narrative and it takes a powerful crip to go against it.”
And one assistance dog-user tweeted: “Not defending him but how much did the media and Joe Public want him to be a ‘hero’.
“Responsibility all round, as is often the case in these high profile falls from grace.”
There has also been anger at the decision of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to make it clear that – once he has served his sentence – Pistorius would be free to compete again in IPC events such as the Paralympics.
An IPC spokesman told Disability News Service (DNS) that it could not legally prevent him from competing, once he has served any sentence that might be imposed.
He said: “The IPC does not wish to comment on the outcome of the trial as it has nothing to do with sport and we are a sporting organisation.”
But he said that, if Pistorius did want to compete again, and once he had served any sentence, and if the South African National Paralympic Committee picked him, the IPC “cannot prevent him from competing” at Rio 2016.
The South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASCOC) confirmed to DNS that “Oscar Pistorius is free to compete for South Africa again, as long as his running doesn’t go against the ruling of the judge”.
A SASCOC spokeswoman said: “There is no regulation that says someone with a criminal record cannot compete.”
Egan described the IPC announcement as “disgusting”.
She said in a blog: “There’s this assumption that oppressed groups would be sympathetic to other oppressed groups.
“Given that disabled people… are routinely killed for being disabled, you’d think a body representing disabled people would have a bit of sympathy for another group of people routinely killed for existing: Women.”
She was furious at the IPC’s description of Pistorius as someone who had inspired millions to take up sport. An IPC spokesman also said, in the same interview with the BBC, that Pistorius had been “the poster boy of the Paralympic movement” in the lead-up to London 2012.
But Egan added: “Everything’s inspiring when you’re a cripple; from putting on your own underpants to taking someone’s life.
“I’m sure he’s inspired dozens more men to commit domestic violence now that they know they can shoot their partner repeatedly and get treated fairly lightly by a justice system geared for men.”
Carter described the timing of the IPC’s announcement as “odd and insensitive at best”.
Britain’s Paralympians so far appear to have declined to comment on the possibility of Pistorius running again, and even competing in the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
The British Paralympic Association has also declined to comment on the case and the possibility of Pistorius competing again.
A spokeswoman said in a statement: “The BPA has heard today of the outcome of the trial in South Africa of Oscar Pistorius.
“This is a legal matter not in any way related to the BPA so we will not be commenting. Our thoughts remain with the family of Reeva Steenkamp.”
18 September 2014