'Paralympian terrorist won't lose his medals'

By Time of article published Nov 2, 2000

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Sydney - A Spanish Paralympian exposed as a convicted terrorist would not be stripped of the five gold medals he won in Sydney as he did not break competition rules, said Games organisers on Thursday.

Sebastian Rodriguez, 43, won five gold medals in swimming and broke four Paralympic records at the event which ended last Sunday.

He had been sentenced to 84 years in jail for his role in the murder of business leader, Rafael Padura, while a member of an armed organisation known as Grapo.

A hunger strike in jail disabled him for life but he told Paralympic officials his disability was caused by a car accident.

A spokesperson for the Sydney Paralympic Organising Committee (Spoc) said the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) only stripped athletes of their medals in two instances: when they took drugs or misclassified themselves, downplaying their disability.

"As far as Spoc and IPC are concerned, he competed on a fair and equal playing field," said the spokesperson.

"In other words he won't be stripped of his medals because he hasn't done anything wrong."

Rodriguez complied with entry standards for qualification into the Paralympics as a wheelchair athlete.

He was drug tested on several occasions and each time returned negative tests, said Spoc.

"The Spanish government issued him a passport, so as far as they were concerned, he did the crime, (served) the time," said the Spoc spokesperson.

"The Australian government gave him a visa ... so obviously they didn't consider him a threat.

"If we start knocking back athletes because of their political or personal or moral or religious persuasions, we get into very deep water."

Rodriguez spent 432 days on a hunger strike, coming close to death on several occasions.

His desire for all Grapo prisoners to be grouped together in the same jail sparked the strike.

He was released from prison under a Spanish law which says the seriously ill should not be kept in prison. - Sapa-AFP

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