March 28, 2020

The Many Victims Of Oscar Pistorius

The instant that Oscar Pistorius pulled the trigger, killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, everything changed.

Let me preface this piece by stating that by far the most affected victims in this whole tragic affair are, unquestionably, Steenkamp, her family, and her friends. Nobody in the sporting world (or out of it) have suffered and are suffering as much as these people undoubtedly are.

But the inevitable consequence of a high profile celebrity falling foul of the law is that its impact will have a further reach than those immediately involved.

I write this as his trial for bail overruns into a fourth day, and as more information continues to come to light. I don’t know whether he intended to murder his partner, but in the unforgiving light of publicity and media image, it doesn’t even seem to matter. His name will be forever associated with what happened on Valentine’s Day in Pretoria, whether he is proven innocent of premeditated murder, guilty, or anywhere in between.

For disability sport, for sport as a whole, and indeed for South Africa as a nation, this is a cruel body blow. The man was the pride of the nation (winning South Africa’s Sexiest Man, no less) and a hero to children and adults, disabled and abled. The damage, like his actions, is irrevocable. Certainly there will be more idols, more athletes and role models, but Oscar seemed the best we had. It leaves a generation feeling cheated; the man we thought we knew so well turned out to be a little more complex and troubled than was convenient for us to consider at first glance.

Of course, Oscar Pistorius has always been a brand. In the media he always appeared charming, affable; like he genuinely deserved success. It may be that all of this is still true. Occasionally, the mask slipped publicly. After being beaten in the T44 200m Paralympic final by an impressive Alan Oliveira, he cried foul play, claiming Oliveira’s blades were too long. He later apologised, to an extent, but it was a glimpse at the ego that lay below the slick television interviews. In an in-depth profile in The New York Times last year described him as “more than a little crazy” and shed light on his fondness for firearms, amongst other quirks. Despite these clues, I always chose to believe a simpler, more palatable truth: Oscar the idol. Many of these character traits likely fuel the same drive and hatred of losing that propels all the best athletes to such success. But in hindsight and engulfed by the context of recent events, they take on a far more sinister reading.

The problem with hindsight is that it can ruin some of your fondest memories. I was lucky enough to be at the Olympic Stadium on the final night of athletics in London, when Oscar won his 400m gold medal. The atmosphere was incredible. I, like many thousand others, was jumping out of my seat, screaming “Come on, Oscar!” as loud as my lungs would allow.

In the continual wake of the murder allegations, however, that memory has lost its gloss. I feel as if I have been cheated out of a moment that I previously looked back on with such fondness. I dare say this is the case for countless others too, whether they saw him at the games or watched him on television through the years. To call myself a victim goes too far, but it is true to say that I have been affected. The web of those who have felt the effects of the shooting begins with Steenkamp and those close to her, but it stretches out far and wide around the world.

Pistorius has said in the past that he doesn’t want to be thought of as a disabled athlete, but simply an athlete. Judge him on his actions, not the fact he wears prosthetic legs. Ironically enough, this is exactly the situation he now finds himself in.

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