Team Blog

To define oneself as less able: a prerequisite for a Paralympian?

How can one fulfill the mission of inspiring the world if one first has to self-identify as less able than others? Defence Images

I should right away say that I think the answer to the question should be ‘No!’ The column highlights some wording in the classification code I see as problematic and not-needed.

Now the blog piece.

Keith Lyons in his column gives a short history of disabled people including Paralympians that also participated in the Olympics all the way back to 1904. Very likely that was news to many given that Pistorius so dominated the coverage the last 4 years. He highlighted two disabled people that were competing in the 2012 Olympics, Oscar Pistorius who received a lot of media coverage and Natalia Partika a table tennis player. Both will also compete in the Paralympic Games in London.

This begs the question: what allows one to be in the Olympics or the Paralympics?

Olympics

The cases of Natalia Partika or Natalie du Toit suggest that a normative body is not a prerequisite for being in the Olympics. The debate around Pistorius only arose because the tool (the cheetah legs) he used was labelled as giving him an unfair advantage.

Now the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) stated that there was no data to back up this claim but once there is he would be barred to compete against the “normal” leg track and field athletes in the Olympics. However this might not be the end of the Olympic dream.

Pole vaulting athletes can not compete against high jump athletes in the Olympics but they have their own event. Given that body composition is not linked to Olympic participation there is per se no reason why a wheelchair or an artificial leg is not treated like a pole or bobsleigh/bobsled and could become an Olympic event. I will talk about the consequences of that road in another column.

Paralympics

A lot has been written about disabled athletes competing in the Olympics. However I think disabled athletes that compete in the Olympics such as Pistorius or Partika pose an eligibility problem for the Paralympics.
Fellow bloggers Keith and Tracey covered the Paralympic classifications.

I would like to draw the attention to some wordings in the classifications of the International Paralympic Committee and the International Table Tennis Federation Para Table Tennis Division

The ITTF Para Table Tennis Division, A Committee of the International Table Tennis Federation, states in their 2010 ITTF Classification Code:

“To be eligible to compete, an athlete must have an impairment that leads to a permanent and verifiable functional limitation that has an impact on sport performance. If an athlete has an activity limitation resulting from an impairment that is not permanent and/or does not limit his or her ability to compete equitably in table tennis with athletes without impairment, the athlete is considered ineligible to compete.”

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) classification code and international standard from 2007 states:

“5.2 3 To be Eligible to Compete, an Athlete must have an impairment that leads to a permanent and verifiable Activity Limitation.

5.3 The impairment should limit the Athlete’s ability to compete equitably in elite sport with Athletes without impairment.

5.4 If an Athlete has an Activity Limitation resulting from an impairment that is not permanent and/or does not limit the Athlete’s ability to compete equitably in elite sport with Athletes without impairment, the Athlete should be considered ineligible to compete.”

If we follow 5.3. of the IPC and the ITTF section I quoted one would have to say that Pistorius and Partika should not compete in the Paralympics as both showed that they could compete equitable in the Olympics.

I submit however that the rule that demands that a disabled athlete shows that they can not compete equitable against Olympic athletes should be abandoned. As fellow bloggers Tracey and Keith highlighted we need some rules and the classifications were set up to ensure a certain level playing field between Paralympic athletes. However there is absolutely no reason to link that to Olympic athletes.

There are rules that highlight who can be in the Men or Women Olympics however the rules do not compare one group with the other ability-wise. And we would not accept such rule.

It is said that the Paralympics are the Parallel-lympics. The highlighted rules seem to suggest they are the less able-lympics.

This is absolutely not necessary. If there is the fear that the Paralympics are flooded by so called non-impaired people one can put them in their own classification so like double amputee, single amputee, no amputee and have different qualifying times for them in order to be allowed into the Paralympics.

Classifications can be based on factual body differences and tool differences without generating an ability judgement hierarchy between the different categories.

How can one fulfill the mission of inspiring the world if one first has to self-identify as less able than others?