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What is classification?

What is classification in Paralympic sport?

Classification is the system used by Paralympic sports and some other Para sports to group athletes together based on their physical abilities. Athletes are assessed by classifiers and placed in ‘classes’ to compete against those who have similar abilities. 

What is the purpose of classification? 

Classification provides a structure for competition. Athletes competing in Para sports have an impairment that leads to a competitive disadvantage. Consequently, a system has to be 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. 

Is there one classification system for all sports? 

No, each sport must have and publish their own classification system. For example, the classification system and classes for swimming will be different for those in athletics, boccia or sailing. This is because each sport is different and, therefore, the effect of the impairment on each sport will be different.  

Sports are governed by organisations known as International Federations who create the classification system for each. For example, World Para Athletics is responsible for the classification system in Para Athletics whereas BISfed is the organisation responsible for boccia. 

How is classification performed? 

Classification is performed by trained classifiers approved by the International Federation responsible for that particular Para sport. There is normally one medical classifier and one technical classifier.  

The classification assessment will test the individual’s levels of function, coordination and movement. Classifiers will also do a technical assessment where a person’s medical records will be reviewed and they may be asked to perform certain tests. Classifiers will also observe individual athletes in competition. The exact classification procedure is different for each sport. 

Will I be classified more than once? 

An athlete will undergo at least two classifications. The first will be at National level and the second will be an International Classification. The format for each classification should be very similar. 

At international level, an athlete will normally receive a confirmed classification after their first competition. The exceptions to this are where athletes may not have reached physical maturity, they are new to the sports and lack technical maturity or they have a condition which may change over time. 

Athletes who have a progressive condition will never receive a confirmed classification because their condition may change. These athletes may be seen by a classification panel at every international competition or they may be given a fixed review which means they will be seen by a panel at a fixed date in the future e.g. every two years. 

If an athlete’s medical condition changes or they have undergone a medical procedure or operation, they can request to be re-classified if they feel their ability to perform in their sport has changed. 

How do I get classified? 

The best way of getting classified is to approach your national disability sport organisation, your national Paralympic Committee or the national governing body which governs your Para sport. They will advise you on the best way forward. 

I want to be a classifier, how can I become one? 

To be a classifier, you need a medical background or have a technical knowledge of the specific sport or sport science. If you have such qualifications and want to get involved you should contact your National Paralympic Committee or the national governing body for the sport you are interested in. All classifiers who assess athletes internationally start classifying at a national level. 

If you have any problems finding the appropriate pathway, you can contact us at info@worldability

Where can I find more information? 

Further general detail on classification in the Paralympic Movement is available from the International Paralympic Committee.

For more information on specific sports, visit the website of the relevant international federation.