IAAF Appoints Advisory Panel to Review Whether to Permit Double-Amputee Can Compete Against Able-Bodied Athletes, Including in the 2020 Olympics

Sep 27, 2019

Double-amputee athlete Blake Leeper has filed an application n July 3 with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), along with a scientific report of a study led by Dr. Alena Grabowski — an expert on the effects of running-specific leg prostheses at the University of Colorado, Boulder — hoping to prove that his use of prostheses do not provide him with a competitive advantage over able-bodied athletes.
The IAAF advised Leeper that, pending the determination of his application, its position is that no mechanical aid is permitted to be used in IAAF competitions, but that Leeper may compete with mechanical aids in accordance with IAAF rules, i.e., only in certain competitions (but not in the World Championships or Olympic Games) and only on the condition that Leeper’s results are listed separately to those of able-bodied athletes.
On July 27, Leeper competed and finished in fifth place in the 400-meter final at the 2019 USA Track & Field (USATF) Outdoor Championships—a result that, for an able-bodied athlete, would qualify him for a spot on the USA relay team and permit Leeper to compete in the 400-meter relay competition at the upcoming IAAF World Championships beginning on September 27, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
However, the IAAF recently denied Leeper’s request.
Elaborating on this, the IAAF advised Leeper that it will not permit him to race using his prostheses in the World Championships “unless and until the IAAF is satisfied that Mr. Leeper’s prostheses do not give him an overall advantage over his competitors,” according to his law firm, Winston & Strawn.
The IAAF made this determination “notwithstanding the potential for irreparable harm that Mr. Leeper will suffer in the meantime—a potential harm that USATF recognized when it permitted Mr. Leeper to participate in the 2019 Outdoor Championships,” the firm continued. “The IAAF placing the burden of proof on Mr. Leeper is also inconsistent with the precedent of Oscar Pistorius, in which the IAAF had the burden of proof to show that Mr. Pistorius’s prostheses provided him with an overall competitive advantage, a burden that the IAAF failed to establish which enabled Mr. Pistorius to compete in IAAF events and the 2012 London Olympics.”
The IAAF advisory group is comprised of various persons who are members of IAAF committees and commissions, and has engaged scientists to assist its review of Leeper’s application and the underlying research submitted. As to the process, the IAAF has advised Leeper that the advisory group will prepare a recommendation (no earlier than October), and that Leeper will be able to comment on the recommendation.
“If they do not make a just decision, Mr. Leeper will be prepared to pursue his right to compete before the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” according to the firm.
Leeper is represented in this matter by partners Jeffrey Kessler and David Feher of Winston & Strawn, who previously represented double-amputee 400-meter runner and 2012 Olympian Oscar Pistorius in successful proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport establishing that Pistorius had no overall competitive advantage against able-bodied runners and thus was entitled to compete. The Winston team representing Leeper also includes Isabelle Mercier-Dalphond and Benjamin S. Gordon.


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