IPC Launches Review Of Para-Swimming Classifications

This year, IPC Swimming, the international federation for para-swimming, will begin a three-year review into its physical and visual impairment classification system. The review comes amid a period of contentious debate in the para-swimming community over the classification standards and process.

Here on our site, the debate has raged stronger than ever. The para-swimming classification system has been, hands-down, the hottest topic of conversation within the SwimSwam community since June. One need only read about the case of Australian swimmer Maddison Elliott at this year’s Worlds to see that the current system is broken. Elliott arrived at Para Worlds in Glasgow classified as a swimmer in the S9 class, swam slower than her best time in her first 100 back of the meet (1:25.42), as a result got moved to the S8 class, where she went significantly faster (1:17.93) and broke the S8 world record.

The International Paralympic Committee revised and approved their classification code in November, and now IPC Swimming is gathering researchers and experts from around the world to figure out how to best serve its Paralympic swimmers.

The process will begin by finalizing contracts with research institutions and conducting interviews with experts, athletes, and coaches to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the current system. The first research area will focus on drag, propulsion, and coordination within the S1-S10 categories.

Research into the visual impairment system (S11-S13) is already ongoing at the Free University of Amsterdam.

Changes in the classification system will be announced periodically as the projects end, but no changes will be made before the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

The statement from Xavier Gonzalez, IPC’s chief executive officer, is printed below. For the full release, click here.

“We have been building towards this review for quite some time and have identified a series of steps that need to be taken in order to strengthen the current classification system. The existing and new research projects will now be carried forward by a project management group featuring athletes, coaches, classifiers and researchers. I hope this review will improve the classification system for all involved in the sport, whilst addressing some of the questions some people have regarding the existing system. To make the review successful we also need the help of National Paralympic Committees and National Federations with the participation of athletes in research, financial contributions to the research projects and value in kind contributions, such as venues for data collection. We want to be open and transparent about the steps that we are taking all along the way, and will provide regular updates not just to the swimming community and the IPC Membership, but also to fans and the media as well.”

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Excellent news. Mr Gonzalez is to be commended. It is crystal clear that Paralympic Swimming is in trouble and strong, ethical, transparent & open leadership is required at all levels to ensure that sponsors, fans and athletes regain trust in the systems. However, what of admitting to ‘witnessing IM in swimming’? Is that being quietly sidelined in the hope we all forget about it? Have the IPC produced this good news story now in the hope that the disgraceful episodes that undermined IPC World Championships in Glasgow are to be pushed even further from our minds? No. Cheaters must be punished and they must be removed from the sport first before we can concentrate on a fairer classification system. Trust… Read more »


Whilst this is tremendous news for the future of Para Swimming both nationally and internationally, does this mean Australians Elliott and Patterson have been given the IPCs blessing to compete as S8s in the Rio Paralympic Games?

I sincerely hope that it is not the case and that a parallel exercise investigating them is in progress. The wider swimming community deserves to be updated about the IPCs intentions regarding these girls and their support staff. Any comment from the IPC swimswam?


Great to see a move forward eventually especially one which looks like it could assist classification of ortho and neuro impairments, even although I’m sure it is a ‘reaction to a reaction’ ie Australian swimmers Elliott and Patterson, but the IPC sat up and they listened. I can’t help but think however that the IPC could hand pick obvious athletes in need of immediate review prior to Rio, not just the ones suspected of cheating. Infact they shouldn’t even be a priority. They should be suspended and placed at the very end of the classification line until there is time to review them. Same with their respective team support personnel. What also happened to the Physical Impairment centre of excellence… Read more »

Trust Issues

Australia features prominently in the forthcoming classification review process as follows :-

Sean Tweedy Queensland University heads up Physical Impairment centre of excellence
Paralympian amputee Brendan Burkett University of the Sunshine Coast has been appointed to the IPC Swimming Classification Review Working Group Committee
Swimming Australia High Performance Manager Adam Pine (who managed Elliott in Glasgow) has been appointed to the IPC Swimming Competition Program Working Group

I sincerely hope we can trust that Mr Gonzalez is true to his word and that the process will be transparent. I for one, am suddenly a little nervous.


What a great idea. Make a big announcement that big things are going to change then appoint the Australian cheaters support team to the jobs to ensure that nothing does. Win-win for the IPC.
Political, political, political.

About Hannah Hecht

Hannah Hecht

Hannah Hecht grew up in Kansas and spent most of her childhood trying to convince coaches to let her swim backstroke in freestyle sets. She took her passion to Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa and swam at NAIA Nationals all four years. After graduating in 2015, she moved to …

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