World Para Swimming (WPS), the international federation that presides over Paralympic swimming, announced new classification rules effective January 1st late last week.
Para swimmers 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.
The revisions will mostly affect the technical assessment portion of the classification processes.
“Para swimming, as Para sport in general, is evolving all the time, and so is the knowledge of the technical aspects of the sport,” said International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Medical & Scientific Director Peter Van de Vliet. “This resulted in a revised procedure for the technical assessment, making the water test a more objective and reliable assessment protocol.”
Para swimming has been marred in recent years by cases of intentional misrepresentation (IM). This is when an athlete intentionally makes their impairment seem more severe in order to be put into the wrong disability class.
Among the inconsistent and unusual testing results was that of Australian Maddison Elliot, who was classified as an S9 going into the 2015 IPC Swimming World Championships. Due to her limited ability to kick during her observation race, Elliot was reclassified an an S8. However, later in the meet, she improved upon her 100 back observation time by about eight seconds, thanks to a strong kick. Inconsistent cases like Elliot’s abound in elite para swimming.
New protocol effectively upheaves the technical assessment entirely. The Classification Advisory Group has developed a more comprehensive and objection classification process, tested extensively over the past year and a half.
While the exact details of the process will be illuminated at the upcoming WPS Sport Forum (date TBA), it essentially scores athletes by observing their “swimming behavior,” namely propulsion and drag. This is a shift from the past method, which simply entailed subtracting points from an athlete’s physical score based on a given impairment.
All athletes with physical and/or intellectual impairments will be reassessed after January 1st.
Athletes with intellectual impairments will undergo reclassification based on developments made at the IPC Classification Research & Development Centre at Leuven University in Belgium, which should result in more accurate tests in the Sport Cognition Test Battery.