Double amputee Blake Leeper cites systemic racism in appealing Olympic ban

Cassandra Negley
·3-min read

American runner Blake Leeper, a double amputee with a shot at the 2020 Olympic roster, is citing systemic racism in an appeal of a ruling that bars him from the Tokyo Olympics.

Leeper and his lawyer said the ruling was discriminatory when it came down last month and are now filing legal action.

Leeper barred from Tokyo Olympics

Leeper, who is Black, filed the appeal on Nov. 26 to the Swiss Supreme Court in an attempt to overturn an October decision by the Court of Appeal for Sports (CAS). It ruled that World Athletics could prevent him from competing since Leeper’s prostheses gave him an unfair advantage, saying they made him artificially taller than he most likely would be if born with legs, via the New York Times.

He stands 6-foot-2 with the blades, which the CAS determined was too tall based on a study of runners from Europe and Asia. He had raced for years without any concern over an unfair advantage.

Runner appeals discriminatory ruling

In the appeal, he argues that ruling is discriminatory because the CAS is basing it off of “maximum” height limits found from data of Caucasians from Spain, Australian and Japan. Per Leeper’s filing, those averages do not include any Black participants.

“Our basic argument is that you cannot tell a Black disabled athlete he is running too tall on his prosthetics based on data that excludes the body proportions of all Black athletes,” Leeper’s attorney Jeffrey Kessler said, via Deadspin. “We know from the scientific studies that people of African descent have different body proportions than Caucasian or Asian athletes, with longer legs in proportion to their torsos. It was racist to exclude this data on Black athletes and World Athletics has no justification for doing so.”

“While the standard for getting a CAS arbitration set aside in the Swiss Supreme Court is very high, we believe this case meets that standard. No court should permit Black disabled athletes to be disadvantaged this way based on data that does not apply to them.”

Kessler also formerly represented runner Caster Semenya, an Olympic gold medalist who is barred from competitions based on rules limiting the naturally high testosterone limits of women runners.

Leeper called the decision “wrong and unjust,” via Deadspin:

“I will never stop fighting for the rights of disabled athletes, and Black persons of African heritage, to be free of discrimination. These decisions of World Athletics are wrong and unjust. When the sporting world is fighting every day to inspire people to be free of racial discrimination, World Athletics should be leading that fight, instead of excluding Black athletes based on studies that ignore Black people and act as if we do not exist. We do. And we are not giving up this fight.”

Leeper competing at levels for Olympics

Blake Leeper competes.
Paralympic athlete Blake Leeper has a time worthy of a spot on the Olympic team. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Leeper, 31, was born without lower legs and has used prostheses since he was a toddler. For the past five years he’s used the same blades to race and has finishes that would place him in contention for able-bodied competitions.

He competed in the 2010 and 2012 Paralympic Games, winning the silver medal in the 400 meters in his classification in 2012. He also raced on the same track as Oscar Pistorius, who that year became the first amputee sprinter at the Olympics.

Leeper finished fifth at the 2019 United States track and field championships, a place that would usually be good enough for the Olympic team. He could also be in contention for the 4-by-400-meter relay.

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