Classification provides a structure for competition. Athletes competing in Para sports have an impairment that leads to a competitive disadvantage. Consequently, a system has been put in place to minimise the impact of impairments on sport performance and to ensure the success of an athlete is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus. This system is called classification.
Classification determines who is eligible to compete in a Para sport and it groups the eligible athletes in sport classes according to their activity limitation in a certain sport.
The Paralympic Movement offers sport opportunities for athletes with physical, vision and/or intellectual impairments that have at least one of the following 10 eligible impairments: impaired muscle power, impaired passive range of movement, limb deficiency, leg length difference, short stature, hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis, vision impairment, and intellectual impairment.
Classification systems differ by sport and are developed by the International Federations (IF) governing the sport. The IF is also responsible to review the system from time to time.
IFs decide which eligible impairments their sport will cater for. Some Paralympic sports are only designed for athletes with one eligible impairment type. Goalball, for example, is only open to athletes with a vision impairment. Other sports, such as athletics and swimming, are open to athletes with any of the 10 eligible impairments.
IFs also decide how severe an impairment must be for an athlete to be eligible to compete in their sport. For an athlete to be eligible the impairment must be severe enough that it impacts his or her sport performance. This is called the ‘Minimum Impairment Criteria’. If an athlete fails to meet the Minimum Impairment Criteria, it does not question the presence of a genuine impairment. It merely means that that athlete does not meet the eligibility rules to compete in a particular sport under the IF Sport Rules.
Since different sports require different abilities, each sport logically requires its own classification system. For example, an impairment of the arms affects performance in a running event in athletics to a lesser extent than it affects performance in swimming.
For more information about classification, please see the Classification section.