Great Britain wheelchair basketball player George Bates is giving serious consideration to having his leg amputated so he can compete with the team at the 2021 Paralympics in Tokyo.
The 26-year-old, who has been unable to walk without assistance since being injured playing football when he was 11, has been told the complex regional pain syndrome he suffers with does not meet the new criterion for eligibility at the Games.
When asked on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Thursday whether he would go through with amputation to join his teammates, who were favourites for gold before this year’s games was postponed, Bates said: “It’s an option that’s there. I have appeals [forthcoming] but if all those avenues are exhausted it will have to be a consideration. This has been my life for 10 years and it will be a legitimate thought if it comes down to that.”
Bates made his debut for the GB Under-22 team in 2017 after a successful junior career and has collected European and world gold medals since joining the senior squad.
Wheelchair basketball’s governing body [IWBF] was told earlier this year by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) that it needed to change its classification criteria in order to comply with the IPC’s new code. Bates was told he would not be able to compete at the Paralympics because pain-based conditions such as his are not considered eligible by the IPC.
Classifications for international players range from 1.0 (most impaired) to 4.5 (least impaired). Bates was originally classified as a 4.5 player and the IPC demanded that all players classified as 4.0 and 4.5 would have to go through reclassification before next year’s Games.
Bates said: “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. I progressed through the GB ranks and won a European and world championships.
“The IPC have forced the international wheelchair federation to change their classification code – every disability has to fit into a small 10-point category and if you are not in any of those points you are deemed ineligible, even if they acknowledge you do have a disability which is what has happened in my case.
“I fully agree there needs to be a process but I’m unable to walk properly – what more is needed. 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 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.”
The IPC responded by stating that Bates’s complex regional pain syndrome was not a condition that would make him eligible for the Paralympics.
“All Paralympic sport is governed by the code, which was approved by the IPC’s 200-plus member organisations in 2015,” it said. “Since its approval we have been working with all international federations to ensure they fully implement and abide by the rules of the code.
“This includes only allowing athletes from 10 different impairment groups to be eligible to compete in the Paralympic Games and international competitions. These 10 impairment groups were decided by the IPC membership in the lead-up to the approval of the code.
“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.”