Wheelchair basketball player George Bates is registered disabled and has been unable to walk unassisted for 15 years. He has suffered from Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) since the age of 11.
George Bates is a member of Great Britain’s reigning world and European champions in wheelchair basketball and part of the Team GB wheelchair basketball team who are favourites for a Paralympic gold medal in Tokyo next year. He has been playing wheelchair basketball since 2017.
Bates was informed earlier this week that, despite playing wheelchair basketball professionally in Italy and Spain for the past six years, he is ineligible for the Paralympics.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) had threatened to exclude wheelchair basketball from the Paralympics if certain athletes were not reassessed against their athlete classification code, which lists only 10 categories of eligible impairment. The assessment took place in March.
“It’s madness,” Bates told the Telegraph. “The email I got acknowledged my disability but basically said it was not the right type of disability which, in my eyes, is quite discriminatory. You can’t define disability in 10 categories. You can’t have a 10-point tickbox. Disability is not black and white; there are thousands of disabilities and every case tends to be different.
“I am fully registered as disabled in the UK. I use a crutch to get about. I am in constant pain in my left leg. I have not walked unaided for 15 years. I can’t play any able-bodied sport. I can’t ride a bike. This is the only sport I can do and I am at no advantage on the court. When I was 14, I had the option to get my leg amputated and chose not to. I decided to stick it out. Now I am thinking maybe I should have had it done. If I had, I would be eligible. What’s the rationale behind that?”
Bates has to have his left leg amputated to meet the criteria.
“Amputation would be a serious consideration for me. I would be looking at that route and what options were available. I have given my whole life to the sport since I was 17. The only thing I have ever wanted to win is a Paralympic medal. I would have to amputate above the knee. I wouldn’t be able to wear a prosthetic below the knee because of the pain,” he told the Telegraph.
Bates was disqualified from competing as his condition is pain-based and, according to the IPC’s criteria, that is regarded as a non-eligible impairment. The International Wheelchair Basketball Federation has been in a long-running dispute with the IPC about athlete eligibility.
Bates noted other wheelchair basketball players with “both legs, no amputation, who train their legs and ride bikes” who had passed the eligibility test.
“I can’t really get my head around that,” he said. “Pain doesn’t count in their criteria but I thought the other problems — my muscle wastage and impaired range of movement, which is part of their criteria — would get me through.”