Blake Leeper, a superstar runner born with no legs, has filed an appeal to the Swiss Supreme Court to overturn a ruling by the Court of Appeal for Sports that barred him from competing in the Tokyo Olympics.
The basis of the appeal is that it’s discriminatory because the CAS determined, in a very arbitrary and seemingly random manner, that Leeper, a Black man, stood too tall at 6-foot-2 on his prosthetic blades based on a study of runners from Europe and Asia.
“I’m training everyday as if I will have a chance to qualify for the Olympic Games next year! I have the best team fighting this fight with me,” Leeper said. “To be wrongfully treated because I am disabled and excluded because of my race is wrong. That’s why I feel this appeal is extremely important and hopefully the Supreme Court will see that!”
Leeper’s attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, told Deadspin he is optimistic that their appeal will be successful.
“Our basic argument is that you cannot tell a black disabled athlete he is running too tall on his prosthetics based on data that excludes the body proportions of all Black athletes,” Kessler said. “We know from the scientific studies that people of African descent have different body proportions than Caucasian or Asian athletes, with longer legs in proportion to their torsos. It was racist to exclude this data on Black athletes and World Athletics has no justification for doing so.
“While the standard for getting a CAS arbitration set aside in the Swiss Supreme Court is very high, we believe this case meets that standard. No court should permit black disabled athletes to be disadvantaged this way based on data that does not apply to them.”
Leeper, 31, is an eight-time Paralympics competitor who has raced against the notorious Oscar Pistorius and later broke some of the South African’s records. Pistorius was allowed to compete against able-bodied runners at a similar height as leeper.
In October, Leeper told Deadspin it was “absolutely’ systemic racism that led the CAS to rule against him as it ruled in his favor that prosthetics do not give him an unfair advantage, only to bar him based on the height argument.
“These are smart people who made this decision. They didn’t even think to consider to include African-Americans or people of African descent, for that genetic body type. It makes me think that this was done deliberately.”
Now he says he is not only battling to achieve his dream of competing in the Olympics, but for the rights of all marginalized people.
“I will never stop fighting for the rights of disabled athletes, and Black persons of African heritage, to be free of discrimination. These decisions of World Athletics are wrong and unjust. When the sporting world is fighting every day to inspire people to be free of racial discrimination, World Athletics should be leading that fight, instead of excluding Black athletes based on studies that ignore Black people and act as if we do not exist. We do. And we are not giving up this fight.”