Classification is a unique element of Paralympic sports, intended to ensure fair competition. As each sport at the Paralympic Games requires different skills and competencies, the impact of impairment on the performance of the athletes varies. That’s why each sport has its own unique classification rules.
Classification is essential for elite sport competition for athletes with impairment, as it performs two important roles:
- It defines which athletes are eligible to compete in each of the sports
- It groups athletes in classes, defined by the degree to which they are limited in their ability to perform an activity.
Therefore, classification guarantees that an athlete or a team competes on equal terms with other athletes competing for the same medals. It ensures that winning is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus – the same factors that account for success in sport for non-disabled athletes.
Each athlete competing at a Paralympic Games has already gone through an evaluation, conducted by authorised technical officials called classifiers who are appointed by the International Federation for that sport. This is a long term and, sometimes, ongoing process which takes place at all major events, before and during competition.
The classifiers assess the athlete’s impairment and how it impacts on their functional ability on the field of play, in line with the classification rules for that sport. As a result of this evaluation, each athlete is assigned a sport class.
If you are new to watching Paralympic sport and classification, it can help to think of why men almost always compete against men and women almost always compete against women. Or think of it in similar terms to how Boxing at the Olympic Games works, where athletes compete in different weight categories, such as Flyweight or Heavyweight.
Classification won’t get in the way of your enjoyment as a spectator, and will also help you further appreciate the performance of the Paralympic athletes. Fundamentally, it’s all about elite sport.