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What is Classification?
Classification is a term used frequently when referring to Paralympic Sport. It is the system that forms the structure of all Paralympic competition.
Classification in Paralympic sport exists to support as fair competition as possible, amongst athletes with different disabilities. This same principle exists in other sporting classification systems; such as age group competitions for juniors, male and female competitions, or weight divisions (or classes) in boxing and weightlifting. By grouping athletes with similar levels of functional ability into classes for competition, the outcomes of the competition become based on athletic performance rather than on differences that exist in their disabilities.
Initial systems for classification were based on medical results and testing. However, as each Paralympic sport requires different athletic skills for performance, classification systems have now evolved to being based significantly on the impact of the athlete’s disability on their ability to compete in their respective sport. This means that each sport has a unique system for classification.
Purpose of classification systems
An efficient classification system must:
- Enable fair and equitable competition
- Give each athlete with a disability an equal opportunity to compete
- Be sport specific
- Only measure functional limitations caused by the disability
- Be as simple as possible so that it can be used in a consistent way
An athlete’s natural talent, level of training or gender will not affect their classification.
Sport Specific Classification Systems
All Paralympic sports have individual classification systems that have identified the key skill areas that are critical to performance of their particular sport. Classification is based on specific functional abilities as related to individual sporting performance. This means that athletes that compete in more than one sport will receive a different classification for each sport.
Please refer to the Winter Sport Profiles for more detailed explanation of the classification systems for each Paralympic sport.
Athlete Classification Process
The athlete classification process in Paralympic sport consists of a number of elements. Each component assesses the potential ability of the athlete, regardless of the athlete’s level of training or development. The following components generally form the basis of the evaluation process.
- A medical examination to ascertain the extent that the athlete’s disability has on their potential function.
Demonstration of technique test
- The athlete demonstrates techniques used in their sport. For example athlete demonstrates dribbling and shooting skills for Wheelchair basketball; or stroke technique in Swimming.
Visual review during competition
- The analysis of the athlete during competition.
Each Paralympic sport has a set of minimal disability criteria that are specific to their sport. These criteria are generally based on the functional skills that are required to compete in the non-Paralympic equivalent of their sport. Where an athlete demonstrates sufficient and measurable functional limitations compared to athletes without disabilities, they are generally eligible for Paralympic sport. For example, the athlete who does not have a hand on one of their arms, has a greater disadvantage in sports such as Swimming, Cycling and Rowing, than in a sport such as Athletics. Athletes who do not meet the minimal criteria set for a sport are not able to compete in any level of Paralympic competition.