Last week, The Guardian released a report on intentional misrepresentation (IM) in Paralympic sports furthering allegations of wide-spread cheating.
Para athletes are classified into various categories to even the playing field within each race. Each swimmer is classified as having either a physical, visual, or intellectual impairment, and undergoes physical, technical in-sport, and technical in-competition assessments to reach a proper classification.
In recent years, accusations of IM have run rampant in Para sports, specifically in swimming. World Para Swimming has released plans to update the classification process in 2018, but it’s unclear how the new guidelines will combat IM.
In the report, a former classification expert (who wished to remain anonymous out of concern for their job) claims to have seen athletes drug themselves, among other strategies, to impair ability in classification events. In the case the expert cited, the athlete was found to have taken Valium, a muscle relaxant, before their classification event.
“I know a country which coaches athletes on what to do before the classification tests so they’ll get into the most advantageous categories and I suspect they’re not the only country to do it,” the expert said.
The expert also noted that one family tried to bribe classifiers so that their son could compete against athletes with more severe impairments. It was noted that in the case of amputees, the risk of IM is much smaller, but the expert claims to have seen athletes with neurological disorders take hot or cold showers, exercise heavily before their classification race to cause fatigue, or bandage and tape limbs before classification to cause increased muscle spasms.
“There are athletes that don’t appear for classification because they’re supposedly sick … In track and field they’ll do a 5km run and come into classification tired,” the expert added.
They also told The Guardian that classifiers are detrimentally undertrained, and that head officials aren’t any better: “We raised concerns that intentional misrepresentation was going on a lot but were dismissed very quickly. I was classifying before a major event and I mentioned to the chief classifier that one of the competitors didn’t look quite right. He just said: ‘Sorry I missed the race.’ The system is a mess.”