NEW YORK, Jan. 12, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- On December 24, 2020, double-amputee sprinter Blake Leeper filed a new application with international track and field federation World Athletics (formerly known as IAAF), to permit him to compete on the same basis against able-bodied athletes in the Olympic Games and World Athletics series competitions using new running-specific prosthetics (RSPs).
In October 2020, an arbitration panel of the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) determined that World Athletics had discriminatorily placed the burden of proof on disabled athletes to demonstrate that their RSPs or other aids did not provide them with an overall competitive advantage over able-bodied athletes, but upheld a World Athletics decision to bar Leeper from competition on the basis that he runs at an "unnaturally" tall height on the RSPs that he had used for the previous five years, in violation of a so-called Maximum Allowable Standing Height (MASH) rule used in Paralympic competition but never adopted by World Athletics. Mr. Leeper is currently challenging in Swiss federal court the CAS decision regarding the use of his prior prostheses, based on the racially discriminatory nature of the MASH rule, which uses claimed "natural" limb proportions that were derived from studies done solely with Caucasian and Asian subjects, and which excluded any subjects of African descent. Notably, the MASH rule was applied against Mr. Leeper without any debate by World Athletics under their rulemaking process, and many people may not even know that World Athletics has adopted such a racially discriminatory rule against Black disabled athletes of African heritage under the guise of Mr. Leeper's case.
In the CAS proceedings, Mr. Leeper pointed out that the admissions by World Athletics' own experts, and numerous scientific studies, demonstrate that the MASH rule discriminates against Black double-amputee athletes of African descent such as Mr. Leeper, by forcing them to run at an unnaturally short height. For Mr. Leeper, that height is far shorter than the height he has run at for many years, including in compliance with a previous version of the MASH rule before it was modified based on the studies that excluded persons of African descent. Contrary to false insinuations by World Athletics, the height at which Leeper had run on his prostheses was comparable to the height at which world class able-bodied 400-meter athletes run.
Even though these facts were presented to the CAS panel, its decision did not mention any of these racial discrimination issues with the MASH rule. The panel did not find any overall competitive advantage in the actual studies conducted of Mr. Leeper, and instead based its decision solely on the MASH limits. By doing so, the CAS decision rests on an unlawful foundation that discriminates against Black persons of African descent. Mr. Leeper's challenge to the decision regarding the prostheses he had previously used is currently pending before the Swiss federal court, but may not be decided for some time.
Mr. Leeper will continue to pursue the Swiss proceedings to permit him to use his prior prostheses. However, Mr. Leeper alternatively is now seeking to compete in World Athletics 400m events against able-bodied athletes using his new prostheses, which are set at a lower height than the prostheses he has previously used, including at upcoming events to permit him to qualify for and compete in the Tokyo Olympics. On December 24, 2020, he filed an application with World Athletics to permit him to do so.
The new prostheses are the same type as the RSPs that Mr. Leeper previously used, but are set so that his so-called MASH height would be 6 feet, 1 inch (185.42 cm), approximately one-and-a-half inches shorter than his prior RSPs. Mr. Leeper has worked with his coaches and training team since the CAS decision, re-learning to run at this lower height using these RSPs. However, the height is still higher than that permitted by the MASH rule, and Mr. Leeper cannot learn to run competitively at any lower height, which is unnatural for him.
Although the new height is taller than his so-called MASH height, in his application to World Athletics, Mr. Leeper submits that: (1) the MASH standards are racially discriminatory, as they are not based on any body proportion data from Black athletes of African descent, (2) published scientific data demonstrates that Black athletes of African descent have longer legs than Caucasian athletes in proportion to their torsos, and (3) there is no lawful basis for World Athletics to apply the MASH standards to meet its burden to prove that Mr. Leeper has any overall competitive advantage over able-bodied athletes running on his prostheses at this new height.
Mr. Leeper is seeking a decision by World Athletics on an expedited timeframe to leave time for any necessary Court of Arbitration for Sports appeal that could be decided in time to enable him to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials. Any undue delay by World Athletics in rendering its decision would itself be discriminatory and improper.
Blake Leeper issued the following statement regarding his new World Athletics application: "It is a travesty of justice that World Athletics is discriminating against disabled Black athletes. I will continue to fight in Swiss court to be allowed to use my prior prosthetics, but, no matter the outcome there, I should be allowed to run on the same basis against non-disabled athletes with my new, shorter prostheses. It is wrong to exclude Black disabled athletes from competing based on studies using body proportions of Caucasians and Asians, when World Athletics' own experts and the scientific community all agree that the body proportions of Black athletes are not the same as persons of other heritages. Especially now, when the fight for racial justice is front and center around the world, World Athletics should admit their mistake and stop using the flawed and racially discriminatory MASH rule and give me a fair chance to compete."
Leeper is represented on a pro bono basis in this matter by the international law firm of Winston & Strawn LLP, with a team led by New York partners Jeffrey L. Kessler and David G. Feher, who previously represented double-amputee 400-meter runner and 2012 Olympian Oscar Pistorius in similar proceedings before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, establishing that Mr. Pistorius could compete in all IAAF-sanctioned events including the Olympics. Leeper's Winston counsel also includes partners Michael J. Stepek (London), Mathilde Lefranc-Barthe (Paris); and Angela A. Smedley (New York), as well as New York attorneys Brandon Annette, Scott Sherman, Drew Washington, and Malik Williams.
For More Information, Contact:
Jeffrey L. Kessler
Winston & Strawn
Winston & Strawn
Stanton for Winston & Strawn
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SOURCE Winston & Strawn LLP