Para Classification Expert: “The System is a Mess”

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.”


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Just give everyone a gold medal and they can all stop complaining


HAve you never had to work for something in you’re own personal life? Don’t diminish what these hard-working young men and women do please


i dont really feel that way. I was trying to provoke discussion. People who follow the sport know that the classification system plays a very large part in who will win the medals. Even the decision of how much limb loss is allowed in a certain class affects who can win. Personally I like the open discussion and hope that the athletes can speak freely without fear of retribution from the national governing bodies. What they need to do is form this independent body which can be used by all the sports and then require exhaustive and detailed medical records be presented at first classificatton when the athlete is young and then require annual updates to the record throughout the… Read more »

Coach John

so why would you suggest ”give everyone a gold medal” I appreciate that NOW you would like an open discussion but I dont see how you provoke discussion with your original comment. I am a para-coach and have witnessed first-hand IM I believe (hard to prove). what is this independant body you want them to form, the article mentioned no such movement. I think to combat this at base-level you need to educate swimmers and parents better (my only education on this phenomenon has been swimswam articles and FB comments). after that the system needs to overhauled and there needs to be clearer consequences for any athletes found guilty of IM (very hard to prove that but not impossible) on… Read more »


How tough is it to have classification take place on a random basis like drug testing. On a competitive integrity level, IM is basically the same as drug use so why not treat it like drug use.


Exactly right, but an athlete cheating is only a part of the problem. Another part of the problem is that the IPC are responsible for classification, it’s volunteer classifiers and for policing it / them. They will never admit wrong doing by anyone ever because it implicates them. Simple. Some major changes are required within the IPC itself – staff, policies, overall responsibilities and the realisation that external organisations assuming responsibty for classification isn’t a ‘nice to have’, it’s essential and urgent. Classification needs to be independent, of that there is no doubt. They cry poor but that is just nonsense. When senior classifiers are talking about the extent of the abuse of the classification systems, albeit anonymously to protect… Read more »

Coach John

to answer your question…. very tough. a classification generaly involves 2-3 professionals and for one athlete can take upwards of 2 hours to complete one file.

last year at Can-Am’s in ND our athletes had to fly in 2 days before the competition to get evaluated. as well these classifications generaly do not run at the same time as the competition so you cannot just randomly pick a medalist and reclassify them during finals.

I get you point but it is logisticaly a nightmare.


The system has always been flawed even in the early years. Until a medical doctor and physical therapists are a requirement for classification– it will continue to hamper the Paralympic swim movement. However the stories and what Paralympic swimming has done for swimmers and swimmers continues to be the altruistic reason and the right reason to be a fan and champion of unsung heros who overcome incredible obstacles. Changed my life and hopefully influenced other swimmers and swimmers about people with disabilities.

About Torrey Hart

Torrey Hart

Torrey is from Oakland, CA, and majors in media studies and American studies at Claremont McKenna College, where she swims distance freestyle for the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps team. Outside of SwimSwam, she has bylines at Yahoo Sports, SB Nation, and The Student Life newspaper.

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