Story at a glance
- Great Britain wheelchair basketball player George Bates suffers from complex regional pain syndrome.
- Under new classification requirements, Bates will not qualify for the International Paralympic Olympics.
- The athlete said he is considering appealing the decision.
When George Bates was injured playing soccer at 11, he chose not to amputate his legs, hoping that his complex regional pain syndrome would one day improve. Now, he's reconsidering a leg amputation — not due to the pain — but because the wheelchair basketball player was told he doesn’t qualify for the International Paralympic Olympics.
“I have to walk with a crutch and I started playing wheelchair basketball when I was 13 and it was fantastic – I could finally play sport again and it was a great outlet for me. I got better and better with training and eventually got good enough to play professionally," he told BBC.
"Good enough" took Bates to the European Championships in 2017 where he was part of the first men's wheelchair basketball team from Great Britain to win a world championship title. After nearly a decade-long career, however, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is telling Bates that his condition isn't an "eligible impairment."
While Bates has been eligible to play under the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation's (IWBF) requirements, the IPC has demanded that the federation change its classification rules before the Tokyo Paralympics. International players are classified between the most impaired at 1.0 and least impaired at 4.5, which is what Bates is classified. The IPC is requiring all 4.0 and 4.5 players to be reclassified under their eligibility requirements, which specifically lists "pain" as a noneligible impairment.
“I fully agree there needs to be a process but I’m unable to walk properly – what more is needed than that. There will be hundreds of disabilities [like mine]. Disability is not a black-and-white thing, it’s not a tick-box situation. I find it really hard to take that someone can be registered as a disabled person and have a registered disability but won’t be able to participate at the highest level of the sport," he told BBC.
The IPC has defended their requirements, but told BBC, “The decision to find George non-eligible was taken by the IWBF, which was asked to reassess all 4.0 and 4.5 players by the IPC ahead of Tokyo 2020 to ensure it was aligned and compliant with the code.”
But the IWBF pushed back in January, when it was put on notice ahead of the Paralympic Games.
"As the most popular team sport, the IWBF has been an advocate for a sustainable and functional classification system," President Ulf Mehrens told BBC, saying that the IWBF sought to "make the sport as inclusive as possible."
Bates told BBC he was considering appealing against the decision as well as going through with lower limb amputation, which would make him eligible for the games.
"It is ironic that the IPC — which attempts to base its brand around equality and inclusivity — is deliberately discriminating against athletes who don't meet its narrow-minded view of what it actually means to be disabled," he told BBC.