Open Letter to IPC president Sir Phillip Craven

by SwimSwam Contributors 52

September 14th, 2016 Lifestyle, Opinion

Layne Bro is not much of an athlete himself, but dad to 3 very active and athletic kids including 1 para athlete. Layne is an Information Security Leader for a California based company and has spent a normal ‘parent of a swimmer’ amount of time driving to and from pools and sleeping in the parking lot.  

Layne Bro

I am a fan of the Paralympics and also the father of a para-athlete. I watched the recent concerns expressed by Steve Long and Ian Silverman with interest. I agreed with some of their points, yet waited until the games to make my own decisions. Below is an open letter to Sir Craven asking for his help in fixing the classification problems. Without his help, no progress will be made.

******** Open Letter Below**********

Sir Philip Craven –

Congratulations on your amazing achievements with the Paralympic Games. You have led the IPC well and built one of the greatest sporting spectacles in the world. I am both a Paralympics fan and a father of a Paralympic Athlete. I was a fan before I knew that my daughter would qualify to compete as an athlete. In fact, my daughter is a Paralympic Athlete primarily because of her exposures to the Paralympic Games and para-athletes when she was young.

You have won the battle but are most certainly losing the war. You have succeeded in creating a world wide brand and gaining more spectators and more sponsors and more athletes globally.

Yet, as I sit in the Aquatic Center in Rio de Janeiro Brazil watching the games, I find that I cannot continue to watch. Your classification system is broken. And this problem will cause you to fail in the bigger picture. The classification systems used historically and for these games, have so many glaring errors and problems, that I find the competition pointless.

During the S8 Women’s 400 Free finals in swimming, the complete failure of your classification system was visually on display. The winner of the event climbed out of the pool and literally ran across the side of the pool in complete excitement. Yet, another athlete was being lifted out of the pool into her wheelchair unable to extract herself from the pool without assistance. The winner, with 2 full legs and 2 full arms barely kicked during the prelims that morning. Yet during the all important finals, she kicked consistently and strongly. How could this be from adrenaline or excitement? For the young woman in the wheelchair – how can she have a desire to continue to compete? How does anyone convince her she can ever beat a seemingly near able bodied swimmer? The winner jumping out and running off in excitement, while at the same time, one of her competitors was being lifted out of the water into her wheelchair, could not have been a more visually jarring scene even if Hollywood had put it into a movie.

The Paralympic classification system is meant to ‘create a level playing field’ across different types of disabilities. How is a swimmer with observably nearly fully functioning limbs the same classification as a swimmer missing both legs or paralyzed and unable to use either leg?

This type of complete inconsistency was repeated time after time at these games in Rio. Both Mens and Womens events. Swimmers from every country are obviously not classified appropriately. I do not blame the countries – they are all trying to play by the rules, but the rules are so useless that the countries are left to find ways to win by using the flaws in the rules to their advantage.

The point of competition is to celebrate hard work and accomplishment. The point of being an elite athlete is to work hard, perform to the best of your abilities, and show good sportsmanship. The stated purpose of the Paralympics is ‘To enable para-athletes to achieve sporting excellence and inspire and excite the world.’ The Paralympics are not able to deliver their purpose when they cannot deliver consistent classifications.

Without a reasonable, reliable, and consistently applied classification system, there is no value in the Paralympic competitions. Rules are what decides the fair competition. The primary rules in Para Sports are the classification system. And the classification system does not currently work. Without these rules in place, the competition is unfair. Do the Olympics force women to compete against men? That is their form of a classification system and it is consistently implemented.

Sir Craven, we have a problem that will ruin the Paralympics if it is not addressed immediately. You, as the President, have ownership of this problem and the position and authority to effect a change. Yet, the problem gets worse and worse with time.

There have been calls for improvements across multiple para sports for years now. Yet, the IPC sports bodies are not doing anything in response. Since the individual sports will not act, you, as president, must act and set the mandate. If not, your amazing work will be wasted and you will be known not for your fantastic achievements, but for the disaster of the classification system.

I am not a doctor, nor do I know the medical histories of the different swimmers, but at some point, even the layman on the street can look at 2 competitors and realize they are not equal in their physical capabilities.

This is your biggest challenge and the one that I believe will define your tenure as President of the IPC. I for one wish you well and hope that you find a way to fix this mess. I hope to attend the 2020 games in Tokyo. As a fan or, as a father of an athlete, or both. But, if the classification system is not fixed, I will no longer be a fan of the games. But, I will always be a fan of the athletes.

In the end, it is the athletes themselves who lose. Those athletes who work hard every day to train and prepare for a fair competition to see how they stack up against the best in the world. When they arrive at these games and see how unfair the classifications are – what interest do they have in trying again next year? You may soon find yourself with a declining number of athletes. And if the athletes lose faith in the games, the fans will be right behind them and will stop attending your events. And without attendance, the sponsors will turn their backs too. There are already alternatives to the Paralympic Games that are more ‘fair’, such as the World Dwarf Games and the World Deaf games. Maybe an enterprising young Stanford or Oxford graduate will start the World Amputee games and the World Cerebral Palsy games. Then what will be the value of the Paralympics with its failed classification system?

It saddens me to think of the hard work that is wasted by all of the athletes who don’t have a ‘way around the rules.’ And I believe they would be better off working on something else where the playing field is at least a little more even – like a career, even in a prejudiced society. At least there, the discrimination and inconsistency are acknowledged.

This is written by Layne Bro.

52
Leave a Reply

Subscribe
Notify of
52 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tamara King
5 years ago

Layne, thank you for writing such a direct and heartfelt open letter. So few parents, athletes or fans are willing to put a name to a comment on this forum. I’ve watched these games from afar, and have just shaken my head race after race. I especially appreciate that you point out that some athletes have no “way around the rules,” and these are the athletes that have suffered the most in these games.

As a huge fan of the paralympics and a proud parent of a US Para swimmer, who is not in Rio, I hope to see a positive change that preserves the integrity and longevity of the “true” Paralympic movement. I also hope that people on here… Read more »

Debbie Cott
5 years ago

AGREED!!! Having never watched the Paralympics before, it is very obvious the classifications aren’t fair!!! My heart does go out to these athlete’s who have trained so hard for years and then be mismatched in their classifications. SO WRONG!!!!

Ben
Reply to  Debbie Cott
5 years ago

Agreed. It made the Paralympics very difficult to watch. Seeing competitors beaten time and time again by much less impaired opponents. Then reading these posts all over the internet and knowing that the IPC doesn’t listen. Reading very detailed analyses of proven IM, and of people given low classifications for temporary injuries and fluctuating illnesses (who then go on to demolish anyone with a stable disability.) Too distressing to watch any more. Shame no-one is in a position to set up a rival competition with fairer and more professional classification.

Swimmom
5 years ago

Agree totally. Well said. I watched Jessica Long swim and every turn she was behind by the winner with 2 legs that could push off the wall

ID Parent
Reply to  Swimmom
5 years ago

AND kicked vigorously the entire race!

Buncobabetoo
5 years ago

Spot on! There are also several athletes posting times that would qualify for able bodied Olympics. There’s nothing disabled about that and they need to be immediately banned!!!

Lien Mock
Reply to  Buncobabetoo
5 years ago

That’s not necessarily fair, as someone with severe visual impairment can still be able-bodied, but would still have a distinct disadvantage compared to someone with normal eyesight.

Cody Sampson
5 years ago

Great letter attempting to draw attention to mis-classification in swimming. I hope you receive a response for your efforts.
I have been bringing issues to the attention of Sir Philip Craven for the past 2 years, including lots of pictures, videos, blog posts from/about the eventual winner of the S8 400 free – Lakeisha Patterson and 4th place swimmer Maddison Elliott. All to no avail. Not once did I receive a response from the IPC. Eventually, I had to accept that Patterson and Elliott were 2 of the 16 cases of potential IM dismissed by the IPC.
I don’t share your view that the countries are blameless. They are completely at fault. As for the girl in the… Read more »

Cindy Kolbe
5 years ago

Thanks for writing this, Layne! I’d like to add to the discussion. Yes, inconsistencies can be found across all classifications, and I applaud your call for improvements in the whole system! There also is a related issue that needs attention: the criteria for the lowest numbered classifications (S1, S2, S3) is less specific than others and leaves a wide range for the wildest errors. When someone in the S3 classification can walk, use their arms, and also dive off the blocks, the playing field is grossly unfair. Re-classification should be a solution, but I have seen the results of re-classifications vary from S3 to S1 while others stay in the same classification in the face of obvious inequality. In the… Read more »

ParaRioFan
Reply to  Cindy Kolbe
5 years ago

A s3 that can walk? Are you referring to retired USA swimmer Michael DeMarco? Are you implying that he should not have been a S3?

Cindy Kolbe
Reply to  ParaRioFan
5 years ago

No, I’m not. I understand that specific skills like walking could be something that some S3 swimmers can do. I was not referring to one swimmer. I was referring to the too-wide range of functional ability in the S3 women’s international playing field, caused by the IPC criteria being too broad/vague in this classification. I’m a fan of Paralympic swimmers and swimming and hope that the IPC can address this.

ParaRioFan
Reply to  Cindy Kolbe
5 years ago

I think your exact quote was “When someone in the S3 classification can walk, use their arms, and also dive off the blocks, the playing field is grossly unfair.”

Are you backtracking because you inadvertently described a fellow countryman ?

Cindy Kolbe
Reply to  ParaRioFan
5 years ago

Maybe I didn’t explain myself as clearly as I could have, but in any case, you completely missed the whole point! To be completely clear, the S3 classification includes some who can walk, use their arms well, and also dive off the blocks. I have NO problem with ANY athlete who can, from the US or otherwise. The ONLY thing that is grossly unfair is that the S3 classification also includes swimmers who can not bear weight on their legs, cannot move their legs, have impaired arm function, and cannot climb onto or dive off of the blocks. My complaint has nothing to do with athletes. It’s all about the S3 classification criteria being too broad/vague and the IPC not… Read more »

ParaRioFan
Reply to  Cindy Kolbe
5 years ago

Guess your point was lost in the English translation. So is your point that you think your child is not a s3 based on the fact that others in the s3 have more functionality.

Cindy Kolbe
Reply to  ParaRioFan
5 years ago

No, it is not. One. Last. Time. The only point is that the criteria for the S3 classification is too broad.

Steve Long
5 years ago

This could all be corrected by the Chief Classifier here at the Paralympics.

A Chief Classifier can protest any athlete at any time during a competition. It is his duty to protest an athlete demonstrating significantly greater ability during competition which does not reflect the athlete’s current sport class. It is also his responsibility to protest an error made by a Classification Panel which has led to the athlete being allocated a Sport Class which is not in keeping with the Athlete’s ability.

Who is the Chief Classifier in Rio? Is he even watching the races?

Protests may also be submitted by a National Federation representative such as the Team Manager.

Why isn’t Queenie Nichols protecting her swimmers?

Bill Clark
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

When a classifier takes a decission against a swimmer of a big country the PC of that country calls the headquarter of the IPC .
Big countries don’t make any protest
because they have sporters with a wrong classification. And so thouse countries support cheaters , but they have also honest sporters that loose a medal on that way.

Cody Sampson
Reply to  Bill Clark
5 years ago

Now that is what supposedly happened with Elliott at her classification in Berlin 2015. Classified S9 one minute, IPC received a phone call and bam, she was back down to S8! Fast forward 3 months and again she’s classified S9. This time she gets out of it by swimming 8sec over her PB and Craig Nicholson doesn’t bat an eyelid. Instead she was put back down to S8 and proceeded to clean up. There is no auditing, quality control or accountability. Shambolic, disinterested management and disconnected committees at best rule the roost.
Complaints made to the IPC are never followed up thoroughly. If they were Patterson would never have gotten on that plane to Rio and Elliott would have… Read more »

Fred
Reply to  Cody Sampson
5 years ago

Problem is that the IPC are their own governing body and therefore accountable to no one.
Classification needs to be taken out of the IPC’s hands and given to another body with the IPC being responsible only for administration.

Cody Sampson
Reply to  Fred
5 years ago

WAIMA – World Anti IM Association .. any takers? I think this needs to happen, classification has to be removed from the IPC. It is not the independent process they suggest.

Buncobabetoo
Reply to  Cody Sampson
5 years ago

Can you provide contact info for WAIMA

Retired Para Swimmer
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

Queenie Nichols is too ignorant to notice these kinds of problems when they are happening in her own team. How is it that Michelle Konkoly can post a video of herself doing box jumps and then claim she needs “help” getting on the blocks. How can the USOC claim that other countries are cheating when they are CLEARLY allowing the same things happen in their own system. Countries have found loopholes in what is an imperfect system. The IPC has to face these issues because already its credibility is in the process of being shredded.

Parafan+1
Reply to  Retired Para Swimmer
5 years ago

I think Konkoly is a different issue from say Patterson and Elliott. Maybe classified too early. Maybe her review date was wrong. I’d call that human error rather than deliberate IM. She trains hard, Cole trains hard, Cole also has an amazing box jump – and a visible impairment.
On the other hand, Elliott and / or Australia deliberately manipulated the system to be placed in to an easier class in 2015- twice. Patterson is pretending to be disabled. The evidence there is huge.
They aren’t going to be able to fix everyone but the IPC should have, and still can target the blatant cheats. It’s not hard to address these two. The evidence is staggering.

Retired Para Swimmer
Reply to  Parafan+1
4 years ago

I agree Konkoly trains hard. But how is it she can do sets of box jumps regularly but can’t get up and down the blocks when she is all of a sudden in the spotlight? The Paralympics were designed for athletes with PERMANENT disabilities. Hence, why Victoria Arlen was told she was no longer allowed to compete, because doctors said there was a “chance” she could walk again. Visible impairment is 100% different than what an S9 is classified as.

As a former paraswimer, and a S9, I competed against people with missing limbs like myself. I never competed against someone with all body parts and that only needed help getting up and off the blocks. I saw PLENTY… Read more »

Steve Long
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

I found out that the Chief Classifier is Great Britain’s Craig Nicholson who is spending his time congratulating the Brits (including Millward) on Twitter. Nicholson was the Chief Classifier at the 2015 World Championships where the Elliott debacle took place. The other Classifiers are Margaretha Merk and Ingrid Ravnan, both less experienced Level 1 Classifiers. It is evident that the IPC never intended to address the intentional misrepresentation issue at the Rio Games!

Lumpy
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

GB classifier knows himself what is going on , I have witnessed this myself when some turn up in a wheelchair for reclassification when the swimmer had never used one before , what a joke , things need change to make the system fair , but they all go along with it , all for medals and funding anf they get to keep the lovely little jobs in a life of luxury ,let’s hope these people at the top running things never have to go through what us parents have to with our kids , it’s ok them say “we understand” no you don’t You work with it, dont make you experts try living in a world that you have… Read more »

Disheartened
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

It’s called match fixing.

Swim Mom
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

They came right out & said they investigated and didn’t believe IM was evident. It’s pathetic. I’ve certainly had all I can take of the entire organization, time to move on. You gotta know when to get out.

Lumpy
Reply to  Swim Mom
5 years ago

Yes I saw that report , a bloomin joke ! What diid they with their eyes closed ?? They certainly didn’t do a proper job

Knowthescore
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

You need to check your facts when writing statements like this. Nicholson is not head classifier, he has no role with IPC in Rio.

Parafan+1
Reply to  Knowthescore
5 years ago

So we have discounted one. Who is the Chief Classifier? You seem to know. Either way s/he has sat on their laurels and allowed those two Australian S8 swimmers to make fools of genuinely disabled swimmers. It shouldn’t be a sectet, classifiers are members of the Technical Delegation, so speak up please.

Nicholson still has a lot of explaining to do regarding Elliotts classification in Glasgow btw.

Smashing their own WR by 4 seconds? Come on!

3 S9s + 1 able bod. Yep that’s a fair playing field.

ParaRioFan
Reply to  Knowthescore
5 years ago

Eva Ruiz is the chief classifier.

Steve Long
Reply to  ParaRioFan
5 years ago

Eva Ruiz is another Level 1 Classifier. This just goes from bad to worse!

Steve Long
Reply to  Knowthescore
5 years ago

I was told it was Nicholson. If not him, then who? Why is everything such a big secret?

Steve Long
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

I never commented on Craig Nicholson’s Twitter account, but he blocked me for making the comment above. So instead of doing his job, he is blocking his critics.

Lumpy
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

He is a disgrace to him self and his job ! Watched the rest of s8 tonight what a complete joke and saddens me that nothing is going to change so what’s the point in putting my child through this !

Number One Fan
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

Queenie Nichols doesn’t want to rock the boat. She’s too busy organizing team bonding exercises and wondering why everyone can’t just enjoy the experience. She’s running this as if it were the Special Olympics.

Buncobabetoo
Reply to  Steve Long
5 years ago

Explains why great Britian has so many on the podium. Especially their s14s who are at least 10seconds faster than the nearest competitor.

ID Parent
Reply to  Buncobabetoo
5 years ago

Some countries have S14s who are merely dyslexic. It’s pathetic.

Buncobabetoo
Reply to  ID Parent
5 years ago

Some go to the university and are posting Olympic qualifying times. The gap is ridiculous. Seeing the way they acted on the podium there’s no way they are ID. Thought for sure this group would be scrutinized after being eliminated in 2000 for 12 years.

Mark
5 years ago

Heartfelt and to the point !!!
Trouble is they had their chance to make a stand before these games.
Records set that no amputee will ever match and i am ashamed to say S8 swimming in the UK is at fault