In setting the standards, athletics organizations cited research involving only Caucasian and Asian athletes. Leeper is black. In Leeper’s appeal, lawyers cited studies indicating that people of African descent may have longer legs than people with different genealogies. The World Athletics Panel denied that its decision was in any way discriminatory and questioned the data cited by the scientists Leeper consulted.
“It is not correct that World Athletics continues to discriminate against disabled black athletes and that the body they appointed has re-approved that discriminatory treatment,” Leeper said in a statement on Monday. “Basing this decision on standards and studies that completely exclude black athletes is against common sense and has no scientific basis, as the contributions of my experts at World Athletics have made clear. Despite this setback, I will appeal so I can continue to fight for athletes around the world who are being discriminated against – be it because of race, disability, or both. “
Previously, Leeper and other disabled athletes had to prove that the equipment they used did not offer any benefit. This is a big challenge as it is difficult to prove a negative in almost all areas.
World Athletics has struggled to balance inclusion with fairness in competition in recent years, but critics argue that its rules discriminate against people who are biological outliers.
For Leeper, and before him for Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, who became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics in 2012, World Athletics focused on whether the equipment they used gave them an advantage over able-bodied runners. For Caster Semenya from South Africa and other female athletes born with elevated testosterone levels, the organization fought for years to prevent them from participating in medium-distance athletics events unless they were taking medication to alter their hormones.
“They have an archaic view of people and they don’t like differences,” Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney who has represented Leeper, Pistorius and Semenya, said in a recent interview on World Athletics. “We are human. Neither of us is perfect. We are all in a spectrum.”
Like all high-performance prostheses, Leeper’s running blades and the mechanism by which they attach them to his legs have been specially tailored for him at a height that allows his body to move in the most efficient manner possible. Experts say it’s impossible to tell if the height at which Leeper runs most comfortably suggests how tall he would have been if he had been born with fully functional legs. According to the latest altitude standards, its current blades would not be allowed in Paralympic races either.