A TOP wheelchair basketball player is facing retirement from top competition at the age of just 26 after being deemed ineligible to take part in the Tokyo Paralympics.
Team GB man George Bates was looking forward to fulfilling a lifetime ambition by competing in this summer's Games having won all the other top honours with his country.
But rule changes introduced by the International Paralympic Committee mean his condition, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, no longer meets the criteria required to compete.
George, who lives at Moorgate, has been floored by the decision and has deemed it “crazy”.
An appeal was unsuccessful and he is now pursuing a legal case to try and overturn it.
He also has the support of his MP, Sarah Champion, who is to raise the matter in Parliament.
With the Games scheduled to start on August 24, time is running out for George to see justice is done.
He said: “I've been registered disabled for 15 years and wheelchair basketball is all I have done for ten years, it is such a big part of my life. I have trained full time for seven or eight years and given up everything to achieve things with GB, so to be suddenly be told I can't compete at the Paralympics is crushing.
“I can still play for my club but not in any international tournaments either now, so the UK Sport funding is going to go along with my whole livelihood.
“I'm still only 26. A player's peak is not until 30 or 31 so my career has been cut short really halfway through.”
George used to play cricket, football and golf before his life was “turned upside down” when he was diagnosed with CRPS at the age of 11.
It left him in excruciating pain, struggling even to put on a sock, and it is through wheelchair basketball that he has since found a purpose in life.
He is not alone in falling foul of Paralympic eligibility rules.
Wheelchair tennis is going through the same classification problems but whereas their affected athletes have been told they will only be ineligible after Tokyo, the basketball exclusion begins before.
“The tennis athletes have done nothing different to us. How come they can get to compete and I can't? It makes no sense,” said George.
“We tried to get a transitional period so the basketball athletes could compete this time but the Paralympics Committee have refused it because they are having a political war with our Basketball Federation, arguing what medical conditions should be classified and what not. That is what it comes down to and athletes like myself have paid the price for it.”
George has even considered having his leg amputated so he can continue his international career, but it is fraught with risks.
“It could make things better and I might be able to walk more but it could also complicate my condition and make it worse and leave me wheelchair bound forever, so it is a real life risk,” he said.
“We have to explore all options to make sure it is the last thing I can do.”
In the meantime, Leicester-born George is hoping he can bring enough pressure to bear to enable him to join his GB team-mates in Japan.
He added: “We are probably one of the favourites. We won the World Championships two years ago and the European Championhips in 2019 and this is as good a chance as we have ever had.
“I have won everything but a Paralympic medal is the one I have always wanted — and not any colour, it is gold or nothing. I would love the chance to win it for my team and for my country.”