Paralympics Committee Bans Swimmer Who Isn’t Quite Paralyzed Enough

As we inch closer to the next Olympic Games, related organizations have had a bit of trouble presenting a positive face to the public. Earlier this month, the International Olympic Committee responded to global uproar over Russia’s strict anti-gay laws by suggesting that gay athletes and supporters try to tone it down a bit while visiting the Motherland for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Now the International Paralympics Committee has earned a bit of bad press for deciding to ban swimmer Victoria Arlen from competing in future events, most importantly the Paralympic World Swimming Championships in Montreal.

Their point? There’s an infinitesimal chance that Arlen, who lost the use of her legs in 2006 thanks to a rare viral disease that paralyzed her from the waist down and left her in a coma for nearly two years, might walk again some day. Her coach says that her doctors call it “a sliver of hope”—and that’s apparently enough for the committee to remove her from the competition.

The swimmer and her fans are not happy:

Some other facts about Ms. Arlen:

  • She’s only 18
  • She’s already broken two world records
  • She is a spokesperson for disabled athletes and a motivational speaker

Hard to think of a more sympathetic character.

Of course the committee wants to make sure that everyone who participates is qualified to do so—and they say that they’ll allow her to compete again as soon as her doctors offer “conclusive proof that her disability is permanent”. This is a bit like the controversy over whether paralympic runner and accused murderer Oscar Pistorius‘ prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage over competitors. But it’s not going over well with the public. Both Senators from Arlen’s home state of New Hampshire wrote letters asking the Committee to reconsider and athletes have already begun to line up in support of Arlen.

We appreciate the value of sticking to one’s guns, but the Committee needs to think of a quick way to extricate itself from this bad PR jam.

*Image via Allen Berezovsky/WireImage