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Paralympian Pistorius Can Vie for Olympics

Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, 21, is eligible to compete in the Beijing Olympics, an international sports arbitration panel has ruled. Pistorius had both his legs amputated below the knee as an infant; he runs competitively on legs made of carbon fiber. Noah Adams talks to Wall Street Journal sportswriter Stefan Fatsis.

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Transcript

NOAH ADAMS, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.

An international sports arbitration panel today announced that a double-amputee sprinter from South Africa is eligible to compete in the Beijing Olympics. The runner is 21-year-old Oscar Pistorius. He races on prosthetics made of carbon fiber.

And this is just one of the topics knocking (unintelligible) in the head of Stefan Fatsis, who joins us now, as he does most Fridays to talk about sports.

Stefan, this court decision reverses a ruling by track's international governing body earlier this year that had barred Pistorius from taking part in competitions against able-bodied athletes. The grounds were that his blades - they looked like blades - provide a mechanical advantage. What changed here?

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sportswriter, Wall Street Journal): Well, it seems that this decision was largely procedural where it's really like a court case. The track group had commissioned a German researcher to study Pistorius' movements. Pistorius voluntarily agreed to be tested, and this guy concluded that he expended about 25 percent less energy to run at the same speed as able-bodied runners.

Pistorius then counter with tests conducted by an MIT professor showing no advantage from these springy, J-shaped, cheetah prosthetics - that's what they're called, they're cheetahs. Pistorius' legs were amputated below the knees when he was 11 months old. And then the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland said it was not persuaded that there was sufficient evidence of any metabolic advantage for Pistorius.

ADAMS: Now, a lawyer for Pistorius told the New York Times today that they won the case because the German, I don't understand this at all, the German researcher was asked to do the wrong job. What do they mean there?

Mr. FATSIS: Well, what he meant was that the researcher never reported the overall advantage or disadvantage that the carbon blades offered to Pistorius and in the absence of conclusive evidence, he should be able to compete.

And this raises to me a lot of big-picture questions of what constitutes level competition; what's an appropriate advantage; what's not; what role does technology play in determining a fair-playing field; and who should be able to compete against whom using what in the future, especially as technology continues to advance.

ADAMS: So, the Olympic Games come up in August in Beijing. We'll probably see Oscar Pistorius marching in the opening ceremonies there into the stadium.

Mr. FATSIS: Yup, I think we will. He hasn't reached the Olympic qualifying time in his best event - the 400 meters. He's about a second off. But South Africa is likely, I think, to include him on its four by 400-meter relay team either as one of the forerunners or as one of the two alternates.

ADAMS: Okay, and now one direction changed, the National Football League the Spygate scandal came back up in the news this week. This is about videotaping opposing teams. Tell us what happened there.

Mr. FATSIS: Roger Goodell, the NFL's commissioner, interviewed Matt Walsh, a former videographer for the Patriots, and then he went down to Washington and spoke with Arlen Specter, the senator who's interested in this.

Two things leap out to me, and I talked to a former NFL executive today about this. He said he's not surprised that the NFL has really tried to minimize the impact of this, no further penalties for the New England Patriots. They're not conducting a sweeping probe of the team or the extent to which this went on in the past.

He drew a parallel from a case a couple of years ago in which the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, Mike Tice, was punished for selling Super Bowl tickets, which is against the rules. It is a widespread knowledge in the league, coaches, players, front-office executives do this, but the punishment was limited to Tice. The message was sent around the league. You know, Goodell has to protect the brand of the NFL. And similarly here, one team, one message - don't do this, let's move forward.

ADAMS: Stefan Fatsis writes about sport and the business thereof for the Wall Street Journal. He talks with us on most Fridays.

Thank you, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: Thanks, Noah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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