The classification process for para-athletes is receiving controversy as more and more British athletes are starting to speak out after a BBC investigation found tactics such as taping up of arms and even shortening limbs of athletes to make the classification regulations.
Sports Gazette interviewed Gemma-Lou Stevenson, Editor for parachatter.com and has presented for BBC sport. She is a para-sport specialist and considers para-tennis to be her main sport.
When asked about whether this controversy has tarnished para-sport she said:
“My concern is the headlines I’ve seen of Paralympic sport being ‘broken’ and I don’t believe it is.
“Ok there are areas that have been highlighted where it needs improvement and there always will be as classification faces the challenges that come with moving with the times and the sports get more and more exposure.
“After all nothing is perfect, but what I feel we shouldn’t also lose sight of is what sport gives to people with disabilities from grassroots to elite level – the sense of empowerment, the focus on what you can do not what you can’t and the chance to belong to a community and culture that just gets you as well as all of the physical and mental benefits.
“I’m all for open debate and scrutiny wherever and whenever it takes place, where systems and processes are discussed and most importantly both sides of the story are being told, but that should not involve some of the witch-hunting tactics.
“I watched in the commons debate on Tuesday, where individual athletes’ classifications were brought up and under parliamentary privilege.
“Hurtful and untrue statements were made about them without them having a chance to defend themselves.
“With the media’s focus on this as well I feel we’ve missed being able to celebrate some of our elite athletes successes this week fully.”
British athletes were also not to be selected if they spoke out, evoking a bully-type mentality. Speaking to BBC sport, 11-time Paralympic champion Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson said of the international Paralympic committee: “It’s somewhere between bullying and control.”
Asked whether athletes faced serious consequences for speaking out, she added: “The repercussions that were reported to me were things like deselection from the squad or the team, lack of access to funding, media coverage.”
The IPC have also claimed that it reviewed complaints from Michael Breen, father of T38 long jump world champion Olivia, but ruled athletes were in the correct class.
In addition, British T37 200m sprinter Bethany Woodward handed back a relay medal from London 2012 claiming she wasn’t happy with the way the team was selected.
But the IPC have spoken out and responded to these claims and it seems a closer eye needs to be kept on the classification process.
Speaking to BBC sport, a spokesperson for the IPC said: “We are fully aware of rumours and allegations about cheating in classification and follow-up on the cases that are brought to our attention.
“Ahead of Rio 2016, the IPC investigated the cases of more than 80 athletes from 24 countries across six sports.
“Following these investigations, it became clear to us that we need to work further with our members on the processes whereby athletes can share their concerns regarding classification.”
Ultimately something has to change, but it seems the IPC are not the villains in this. They promote para-sports and have been promoting para-sports to the mainstream more so than ever before. Let’s hope this stain surrounding the sport doesn’t tarnish its legacy.
Featured image credit: Caroline Granycome