The trial of Oscar Pistorius is almost at an end. He was found not guilty of deliberately murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, but guilty of culpable homicide; we would say manslaughter. He will be sentenced next month.
The whole business had been deeply dismaying, because Pistorius was a hero – perhaps the great hero of 21st century sport. We prefer our sporting heroes to have about them some kind of moral virtue. We’re greedy: we want them not just to be good at sport, but good in other ways too. It makes the whole business of sport seem more worthwhile.
That rule counted double for Pistorius. When he stood at the start with his running blades strapped to his limbs, he was powerful, beautiful, sexy. His pell-mell racing style was a glorious image of what life should be: misfortune turned on its head to become a kind of colossal privilege. When Oscar ran it seemed that disability itself was now working backwards.
And that made us all feel better about disability. We never wondered about how Pistorius felt about it. But as the trial unfolded, we began to see Oscar plain: a man who had lived in torment long before the terrible events took place. The trial showed him as man obsessed with guns, violent, controlling, hostile and never far from rage. He was as riven with jealous as Othello and what followed — for once the term is accurate – was tragedy.
On the track he looked like a god. At the trial it was clear that he had lived much of his life in hell. I too felt my spirit soar when I watched Pistorius run. I saw him at the Olympic Games: how wonderful is that? Able-bodied athletes complained that he had an unfair advantage, and he did, if you look at the thing purely in terms of physics and biomechanics. I always responded: if you think disability is such a great advantage, the solution is in your hands.
Oscar in his pomp was one of the most inspiring sights sport has ever produced: we really didn’t want it spoiled by the realities of Pistorius’s life. Now we must consider deeper, darker and more complex matters.