Para-Swimming: IPC Changes Classification Rules & Procedures

Para-swimming will see some big changes this year, with the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) rolling out an updated manual with new rules on classification.

IPC swimmers are each classified into one of fourteen different classes, to allow swimmer to compete against others with the same physical attributes: missing limbs, visual impairments, etc.

Paralympic star Mallory Weggemann produced an excellent piece last summer explaining the classification system in more detail; you can read that story here.

The current classification system has hit some snags in the past few years, though. Before the 2012 Paralympics in London, several athletes (including Weggemann and fellow American Justin Zook) were reclassified to new classes at the last minute leading the IPC to spread their classification screenings out in order to avoid such last-minute suprises.

This summer, controversy brewed at the IPC World Championships in Glasgow, with Australia’s Maddison Elliott being reclassified multiple times during the meet. A U.S. coach tweeted critical comments about the reclassification and was removed from the coaching staff for the ParaPan Am Games later in the summer.

Then there’s the case of Ian Silverman, who was abruptly classified right out of IPC Swimming when the IPC ruled that he was no long considered a para-swimmer, despite having cerebral palsy.

With all of that chaos in mind, the IPC has updated its rules and regulations with some very different classification procedures. Tom Miazga, a star of the U.S. Paralympics Team, helped walk us through the changes:

Water Test Changes

  1. Swimmers must now swim a full 50 meters of each stroke (previously less than a 25)
  2. Freestyle must include a turn (a flip turn or other turn if the athlete does not use flip turns) with 5 meters of swimming after the turn
  3. Everything must be done at race pace
  4. Classifiers must declare why they added points to a swimmer’s class during a water test
  5. The point breakdown between starts and turns is defined with more clarity under the new rules

Miazga notes that the third point could be the most contentious, as it obviously comes with some subjectivity as to what each individual’s “race pace” truly is.

General Classification Changes

  1. Classifiers need to have one of two qualifications in order to classify athletes:
    1. Be a certified health professional in a field relevant to the impairment of the athlete being classified
    2. Have extensive coaching or other background in IPC swimming and expertise on the subject (as determined by the IPC)
  2. Height restrictions for the S6 and S7 classes, which are typically for those with dwarfism or a similar condition
    1. S6/SB6: Men must be 137cm or below, women 130cm
    2. S7/SB7: Men must be 145cm or below, women 137cm


Tom told us the changes look like improvements in the realm of clarity, with a “noticeable change in the level of detail provided.”

You can view the new IPC Swimming Manual here (effective September 2015), and you can compare it to this old manual from May of 2011.

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seems unfair that the swimmers that were classified under the previous rules get to compete against the swimmers subjected to the new rules. there should be an overhaul to have all athletes reclassified under these new guidelines to achieve maximum transparency.

Steve Long

These changes will not prevent another issue similar to the Maddison Elliott situation. The only thing that will ever keep classifications fair is the protest and appeals process. It’s part of the rules and should be used to keep everyone honest. Until countries start using the rules to protect their athletes, this problem will continue. Politics should not come in to play when considering whether to protest or not.


I agree. The protest and appeal process’ are underused and misunderstood by everyone. NPCs fail to understand and therefor educate the athlete that he has a right to protest his own classification. Team management ignore swimmers concerns (sometimes of swimmers from their own nations) – Australian athletes it seems have even been gagged from talking about classifications. Appeal process (Australian Crothers) appears to be being abused. None of this improves the sport in the slightest, it should always be moving forward. Knowing that no one protests/appeals :- 1 it allows athletes to con their way into an easy class 2 it pushes disabities back in to the dark corners of society 3 rather than inspire and excite the public (A)… Read more »

Sad, Pathetic & Political

I will never understand how this could have happened in ‘Elite Sport’ and, I’ll never understand why people who were in a position to change the outcome stood back, said and did nothing. It was like watching a bully with free reign in the school yard – and the bullying continued for those few who did stand up in the aftermath. Can’t people step up and admit that they made a mistake anymore? The damage Elliott & co have caused is huge and that is why the IPC need to be seen to be doing something about it. All this has achieved is to demonstrate the poor perception coaches, educators and managers involved in sport really have of athletes with… Read more »


Steve Long – I agree mostly with what you have said. These changes though are a definite step in the right direction for classification in general. I think the IPC should be applauded for acting swiftly post their World Championship worldwide embarrassment but agree that they havent gone nearly far enough. These changes certainly won’t deter Intentional Misrepresentation. A sharp shock is needed there with every possible book thrown at those who thought it either ok to impersonate people living with impairments for personal & national gain or to support them in their fraud, the crime is the same either way. Nations then should embrace the protest & appeal process – classification is meant to be athlete centred and therefor… Read more »

Why not protest?

I agree with Mr. Long. Why not protest? Must be disheartening to watch your daughter miss out on a gold medal and have no one do or say anything. At least her coach who wasn’t even there came to her defense via Twitter!

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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