LONDON (Reuters) - The Paralympic movement will continue to thrive and grow despite Oscar Pistorius being charged with murdering his girlfriend, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Philip Craven told Reuters on Tuesday.
“Blade Runner” Pistorius, born without a fibula in both legs yet still one of the most high-profile athletes in either able-bodied and Paralympic sport, is accused of murdering Reeva Steenkamp at his Pretoria home early last Thursday.
Craven spoke of his “shock and disbelief” at the news of the arrest of the South African, who appeared in court for a bail hearing on Tuesday, and said he had only just got his “head around the whole situation”.
He said, however, that the accusations against Pistorius will not prevent disabled sport building on the momentum and goodwill generated by London 2012, an event that smashed ticket-sales targets and was more widely broadcast than any previous Paralympics.
“Yes, we are here today discussing this terrible tragedy in South Africa, but the Paralympic movement is very much alive and well,” Craven, who is currently in La Molina in the Spanish Pyrenees for the IPC Alpine skiing world championships, said in a telephone interview.
“This afternoon I am writing to all our members, 180 national Paralympic committees. I shall be informing them of the emotional roller coaster that I have been on these last five days...and then reiterating the momentum from London will continue despite this news.”
Pistorius was the main attraction heading into last year’s Paralympic Games after a battle to compete against able-bodied athletes ended in him becoming the first man to compete in both Olympic and Paralympic track events.
He suffered the disappointment of defending only one of the three gold medals he won in Beijing four years before and drew controversy when he complained about the length of his opponent’s prosthetics after losing in the 200m final to Brazil’s Alan Oliveira.
“Pistorius was an immense draw for Paralympic and world sport...He wanted to run against the fastest people on earth,” said Craven.
”I was asked prior to London about the Pistorius effect and my response was, ‘Listen, there are 4,200 athletes coming to London and each of them will put in great performances and have amazing personal stories to tell’.
“It was not just the Pistorius show... and the exciting point is now instead of maybe one main focal point in internationals, there are going to be many stars of Paralympic sport around the world.”
In many ways, Pistorius had already been dislodged from his pedestal as the undisputed elite athlete within the Paralympic movement and Craven says there are others who can come through and take on his mantle.
“I think if you look at what Alan Oliveira did in London and with the next summer Games being in Brazil, I think that already you have an individual there who is being very much talked about,” he said.
Since London, the IPC has signed a new deal with British broadcaster Channel 4 to screen the Rio Games and announced a grand prix series for disabled athletes that has been described as a Paralympic version of the Diamond League.
Craven was adamant that relationships with commercial partners would not be derailed by the Pistorius case.
“I don’t foresee that at all. I just see us building on the momentum London had which is very much still there,” Craven said.
”We have already been in contact with our sponsors, understandably and they really are making the same differentiation between the performance of Paralympic athletes and this tragedy that has taken place in South Africa.
“I know our sponsors are with us. This being a world championship year in many sports... (it) is a great opportunity in 2013 to get Paralympic sport back on the TV screens.”
Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Alan Baldwin