Disability Sport Info

High-Performance Sport: Classification

January 31, 2023 Dr Chris Brown Season 4 Episode 1
High-Performance Sport: Classification
Disability Sport Info
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Disability Sport Info
High-Performance Sport: Classification
Jan 31, 2023 Season 4 Episode 1
Dr Chris Brown

In this episode, I explore the classification system. I speak with PhD student, Janet Lawson, to understand in detail what classification is, as well as some of the challenges with the classification process. We consider why classification is often a misunderstood process, as well as why it can be source of controversy. Finally, we consider how the classification process can be improved. 

Thanks for listening to the Disability Sport Info show!

Please email disabilitysportinfo@gmail.com to share your feedback. I'd love to hear from you.

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, I explore the classification system. I speak with PhD student, Janet Lawson, to understand in detail what classification is, as well as some of the challenges with the classification process. We consider why classification is often a misunderstood process, as well as why it can be source of controversy. Finally, we consider how the classification process can be improved. 

Thanks for listening to the Disability Sport Info show!

Please email disabilitysportinfo@gmail.com to share your feedback. I'd love to hear from you.

Transcript of Disability Sport Info episode, ‘High-performance sport: Classification’




Speaker: Dr Christopher Brown (Presenter – University of Hertfordshire, UK) 

Speaker: Janet Lawson (Participant – Queen’s University, Canada)


[00:00:00] Dr Christopher Brown: Welcome to the Disability Sport Info Show, the podcast that explores academic knowledge about disability sport. My name is Dr. Chris Brown and I'm an academic with an expertise in disability sport. Each episode I focus on a specific topic of disability sport and speak to academic experts to understand the area in more depth.

[00:00:20] So join me and listen to the Disability Sport Info Show to get an expert view on disability sport.

*** Discussion begins ***

[00:00:29] Dr Christopher Brown: Hello, Janet. Thank you for joining me today. So I've got Janet Lawson, who is doing her PhD into the classification of athletes in the Paralympics. So thank you ever so much, Janet, for joining me. Really delighted to have your expertise to discuss an area that perhaps is sometimes misunderstood. Obviously you can talk about this in more detail, so I think it'd be really useful to get that clarity and insight from yourself.

[00:00:51] So I think really to start off, big question, but what is classification? How does it work? And who's involved in the classification process? [00:01:00] 

[00:01:00] Janet Lawson: Great. Well, first of all, thank you for having me. I'm excited to be on the podcast and share a little bit about classification, um, because it is generally really poorly understood both outside of Parasport and within it as well.

[00:01:12] Um, so classification very simply is a system of organising competition that's intended to minimise the impact of an athlete's impairment on their sport performance. Uh, so that means we're trying to look at how we can equalise competition in terms of the athletes, uh, athletic abilities, their skills, their training, uh, the equipment that they use rather than the victor of a match.

[00:01:37] Or, uh, a game being reliant solely on who has more functional ability retained following an injury or in light of a congenital impairment. So the process for classification or who's involved domestically, it would be a number of different individuals supporting an athlete in getting classified. So you might have a national sport organisation or an NSO receive a number of classification [00:02:00] spots at an international event.

[00:02:02] Uh, so those individuals would then decide based on their current group of, uh, national athletes who needs a classification, who's gonna be. Make that decision with the coaches and with the athlete that they're gonna be sent to that event and that they'll get classified there. That individual will then seek to pursue medical documentation of their impairment, which for some athletes can take months if they're being referred to specialists, if they're getting documentation that they don't necessarily have on hand.

[00:02:29] And then they go to the actual event with either their coach or a designated individual by their national sport org, and they go through that classification process itself. Classification panels are typically comprised of two to three individuals and the IPC or International Paralympic Committee rules state that those individuals typically must have medical training of some sort.

[00:02:51] So predominantly the classifiers that we see are physicians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, sometimes kinesiologists, and then [00:03:00] for some sports, if it's set out in their rules, you can also have technical, uh, classifiers. Those would be former athletes or former coaches, but that's much less common.

[00:03:08] So that panel will then observe the athlete in three primary activities. One is most commonly referred to as a bench test. This is where they have the athlete sit on a, a bed or a plinth and undergo things that would be similar to a physiotherapy assessment. A lot of passive and active range of motion, muscular testing, that idea.

[00:03:29] And then a technical observation where you might see, in say, the sport of rowing, that an athlete sits on an ergometer and starts to row, or for track and field, that they'll have the athlete go out to the track and wheel around doing a warmup so that they can actually see how not only the athlete's body works, but how it works in their sports specific movements.

[00:03:51] And then, following that, they'll usually indicate to the athlete what their classification should be, but it's not finalised until they actually [00:04:00] get to observe the athlete in competition as well. And the reasoning behind this is that an athlete's going to try their hardest in competition regardless of whether or not they're being classified.

[00:04:09] So that will ensure that they're seeing the best effort from the athlete to make sure that they're not holding anything back and not giving their fullest effort during that classification. 

[00:04:19] Dr Christopher Brown: Okay. And once classification is done, is it fixed? Or can it change throughout the athlete's career as an elite athlete?

[00:04:27] Janet Lawson: So it will vary a little bit from sport to sport depending on what the rules are. Um, some sports like wheelchair rugby mandate that athletes get classified three times before they will be given a fixed status sport class. For other individuals though, depending on their impairment or their disability, their status may change as well.

[00:04:45] So if you have an athlete, say with multiple sclerosis and their impairment is progressive or remitting, and it might change over time, they will likely never receive a permanent classification. Rather, their sport class would be marked with an R and they'll be told every two to [00:05:00] three years, you need to come back and get classified again to make sure that you're still exhibiting the same functional ability and performance to make sure that you're still in the right class.

[00:05:09] Uh, which could be both to ensure fair competition for others and to ensure that that athlete is actually competing in the class that is most fair for them as well. 

[00:05:19] Dr Christopher Brown: Okay. And you touched upon just a minute ago about fairness, and you've talked about some of the measures that are put in place to, uh, have objective kind of classification rules, or at least have some sort of framework in place.

[00:05:31] So, is that the extent to which classification is kind of tried to made objective and robust, or are there other measures in place to try and ensure it is a fair process for all athletes? 

[00:05:41] Janet Lawson: That's a great question. I think in terms of fairness, predominantly what we would think of is some of the research that goes into developing these evidence-based classification systems that are used.

[00:05:51] So the Sean Tweedys of the world that are, that are diving into what sort of tests can we do to specifically measure this sort of function in this way [00:06:00] is really getting at the heart of, are these assessments really doing what we want and are we giving all athletes an accurate classification? If we're doing that, then theoretically the system will be fair. Where my work is situated though, I would look a little bit more at the interpersonal elements of classification.

[00:06:16] So how does the relationship between an athlete and a classifier influence whether the classification is fair? If a classifier is speaking in medical terminology and not taking the time to explain the process or the result and how that result came about to the athlete, they might feel really disempowered during that process and not leave that experience feeling like they were involved and that it was meaningful to them. Um, and in some cases I've heard of athletes even leaving the sport system following poor experiences with classification. So I think we can look at fairness in terms of both performance and from that participatory lens of how can we not have classification be a deterrent to athletes participating.

[00:06:58] Dr Christopher Brown: Yeah. Some great points there in terms of [00:07:00] the duality of fairness, I think there. I'm really interested to find out more about your current research and your PhD because one of my next questions was going to be talking about, you know, to what extent are athletes included in the classification process, and it sounds like not always, or at least not necessarily in a way that is clear and understandable for the athletes. So are you able to talk about some of the findings and experiences from your research into athlete involvement in classification, please? 

[00:07:28] Janet Lawson: Sure. Um, so my research is primarily qualitative. Um, and through my master's I was able to work with Dr. Toni Williams at Durham University in the UK as well as my supervisor, Dr. Amy Latimer-Cheung, here at Queens University, um, to interview athletes, uh, coaches and classifiers about their experiences. Um, and really all three parties were able to, uh, describe their roles in classification, how they related to one another. And from that we saw that athletes really aren't actively involved in the process, in most cases, [00:08:00] uh, be it in the development of the system through to the actual nitty gritty individual level classification.

[00:08:05] Athletes are really often viewed as passive objects. Um, so athletes represented this in terms of feeling, again, as I mentioned, disempowered by medicalised language that was inaccessible to them. Especially when we think of sometimes these athletes are very young. You might get a 13 or a 14 year old going to an international swim meet, who isn't going to have that skillset to relate to a doctor maybe and might not feel confident or comfortable raising questions.

[00:08:31] So in terms of athlete involvement, again there is that, that piece of athletes not feeling, um, empowered during their experience. And then in terms of the system, athletes are seldomly included on classification panels and even more broadly, individuals with disabilities are seldomly included. Again, if we think of the professions that are typically represented, most physicians are relatively able-bodied or don't have the similar impairments that we're necessarily seeing represented in parasport.

[00:08:59] Dr Christopher Brown: 

[00:08:59] Why do you [00:09:00] think that is? Why do you think there's been less involvement? You know, surely there needs to be some sort of patient feedback and as you you've said, you know that disability manifests itself differently to the individual. Mm-hmm. . So, you know, we can say someone has multiple sclerosis, but you know, for that particular individual that might be manifesting in a particular way compared to someone else.

[00:09:18] So why is that a lack of involvement from people with impairments? Be it an athlete or just generally? 

[00:09:25] Janet Lawson: Right. Well, I think generally, again, if we're looking at, say, physicians and physiotherapists, I think that's representative of the lack of disability within those professional realms. Um, or again, maybe the lack of, um, more significant impairment in those professional realms.

[00:09:42] Maybe you'd have a physician with MS, but not say a physician who's quadriplegic, and so they can't then relate to those athletes in the same way. Um, more broadly though, I think classifiers see themselves as being necessarily [00:10:00] separated from athletes in order to preserve the integrity of the system. So while the classifiers that I've spoken with are very empathetic towards athletes with disabilities, uh, they view themselves as being very benevolent and wanting to help athletes.

[00:10:14] There is a sense of us versus them in terms of not wanting to work too closely with the athlete for fear of that being perceived as helping the athlete, giving them an upper hand doing something that's not on the up and up. 

[00:10:28] Dr Christopher Brown: Interesting. It's a tricky one, isn't it? Because I understand that logic and that reasoning.

[00:10:32] But then you could also flip it and say that by not engaging with the participant and getting their feedback, the integrity could be questioned because ultimately it's then a one-sided process. So that is a, it's a tricky balance to strike, isn't it? And, um, have the athletes suggested themselves how the system could be improved?

[00:10:53] Janet Lawson: Certainly, I think that again, there's, it seems like everything in this conversation, there's kind of two ways that we could look at improving it. [00:11:00] One would be to develop this really rigorous evidence-based classification system, eliminate any chance of potentially cheating, and I'm certainly in favour of that work continuing.

[00:11:11] But where again my work lays is more in saying, well, within the system that we currently have, what can we do to improve athletes experiences, to improve trust in the system so that athletes don't leave their classification, feeling mistrustful of the classifiers saying, well, I looked at that guy next to me, you know, swimming in the lane over, and he didn't seem like he had the disability that was representative of our sport class. I feel cheated. And where I think we can improve that is through improving communication, uh, between classifiers and athletes so that classifiers can take the time to fully explain an outcome, explain how they came to their decision, so that there's more transparency around what happens when it happens, why it happens.

[00:11:54] And then also because we've seen that athletes who have a better understanding of what to expect when they go to classification, [00:12:00] uh, typically view their experience more favourably. So oftentimes athletes show up and they really don't understand that they're going to need to, uh, take their shirt off potentially, or undress to some extent.

[00:12:11] They're not necessarily, uh, sure whether or not they're even allowed to ask questions. There is an appeal and a protest process in place, but athletes don't necessarily know who to contact for that or when and how. And the fallback would be for them to call their coach or their NSO and to deal with it that way.

[00:12:28] But there's so much information that's lost that could be more readily available. And if it were, athletes would be more confident in kind of, I don't wanna say their rights in the classification process, but in their ability in the ways that they can take charge over that situation. 

[00:12:50] Dr Christopher Brown: 

[00:12:50] You know, as a viewer if you're watching something and you see someone with one arm versus someone with no arms in terms of competing in the same [00:13:00] category, how does that come about? How, how do they make it that in theory, it is actually equitable and fair in terms of the category? So how can we have multiple impairments or different types of impairments within the same category competing?

[00:13:14] What's the rationale behind that? 

[00:13:17] Janet Lawson: So, first of all, the classification system is such that, rather than looking at what the individual's impairment is, it looks at how does that affect their sport performance? You could have two different disabilities, but if they're affecting the athlete's movement in similar ways and they have similar levels of muscular function, um, and control, uh, and ability to complete the sports specific activities that they need to do, they could be classified into a similar class.

[00:13:49] On the other hand as well, depending on the sport that you're looking at, um, sometimes competition is structured as such that you'll get different sport classes competing against one another or competing at the [00:14:00] same time in order to manage the event. So that would be most common in things like athletics or swimming where you might see athletes in different lanes with not only different disabilities, but different sport classes, but they're running the varying events at the same time in order to move competition along so that you're not then seeing one athlete running by themselves with no competitors, but that they have competitors to run against, but then they'll be evaluated or their result will be retained within their singular sport class.

[00:14:34] Dr Christopher Brown: What impact do you think that has on the viewer experience if they don't necessarily instantly know who's won? Because the classic is if you finish the race first or you've touched the wall in swimming first, you win. But that may not be the case. 

[00:14:48] Janet Lawson: Well, I certainly don't think it helps the viewership. People not understanding how the sports work is a huge detriment to getting people to watch it.

[00:14:57] Sometimes [00:15:00] athletes themselves don't understand the sport system. Athletes who maybe compete in wheelchair basketball will say like, oh yeah, I have friends that do track, but like I don't really know how that works. Like I don't know what their school class is. And so it's something where we need to better be able to communicate at least what the classification is system is in simple language, generally how it functions that you might turn on the TV and say, okay, I'm not exactly sure what sport class this athlete's in, but I know that more than one sport class can be competing at a time. And so I'm not gonna be instantly confused when I see them handing out two metals at the end of the event, uh, that I might take the time to then do a little bit more research.

[00:15:40] And then when we look online too, maybe someone watches an event, thinks it's really interesting, but they go online to look up what was happening. There's not a lot of quality information out there that really thoroughly explains what classification is and how it works. At best, you get classification exists, it organises competition.

[00:15:59] Here [00:16:00] are the 10 impairments that qualify an individual to compete in Paralympic sports. So there's not a lot to go on if you are interested in learning more. 

[00:16:10] Dr Christopher Brown: Yeah, and also it relies on the viewer having the determination and willingness to actually go and seek out information. You know, like the casual viewer who's just popping on the tv, to see something, isn't gonna care about looking about the information online, are they? That's potentially an issue. But I understand, you know, the rationale for why it currently exists. 

[00:16:31] I mean, it seems to me there is also a talent pool issue. There's not enough athletes in the categories to be able to enable the race to be able to take place for that particular class or category.

[00:16:43] And I know there's often debates in the area about, you know, are there certain impairment categories being removed or marginalised in order to be able to streamline competition? So there is a suggestion from some in the literature that those with more severe impairments are potentially being [00:17:00] marginalised, to enable the kind of less severe impairments categories to take place, which is potentially, from some people's perspectives - I think I've put enough qualifiers in place now - seen as a more, you know, marketable product. But what's your viewpoint on that? 

[00:17:13] Janet Lawson: I mean, I certainly can't speak to the malicious intent of organisers or broadcasters as to whether or not, you know explicitly intentional or the byproduct of being focused on generating revenue from an event and, you know, prioritising what's gonna sell.

[00:17:33] But certainly there are so many additional or increased barriers for individuals with higher sport needs to participating in sport. The equipment costs get higher, the opportunities are further and fewer in between. If we look at a country like Canada, I'm situated in a town of a hundred thousand people.

[00:17:52] We're two hours south of the nation's capital and three hours from Toronto, the most densely populated city in Canada. [00:18:00] And there are very, very few parasport opportunities where I am, because the country is just too big and I live in a relatively populated area. If we're looking at people living in the north or more rural communities, those opportunities are even harder to come by.

[00:18:17] And that would be, you know, if you're looking at say, an athlete with a lower limb amputation who wants to compete in track and field and is having trouble getting support at their local track program, let alone if that person needs, uh, an aid or an attendant throughout practice and competition, if they then have to pay for that person to travel with them hours and hours to get to practice each week, let alone competition in another province or territory.

[00:18:42] So the barriers to participation, I think, means that there's so many fewer athletes who are even available to compete, and then paired with the pressure to perform and to sell seats, sell advertising. There's just so many reasons why we're not seeing as many athletes [00:19:00] represented as we would in an ideal world see. 

[00:19:04] Dr Christopher Brown: Yeah, no, very good points made there. I mean, when Paralympics are on and you get certain sports, there are numbers next to some letters in terms of trying to say classification. So for example, swimming, I think it goes from S one to S nine. You are the expert. You might wanna correct me if that's not correct, but for the casual viewer, what on Earth does S one or S two, S three et cetera, mean?

[00:19:25] Janet Lawson: So, yeah, most sports will do an alpha numeric kind of combination. Um, often the letter indicates the event. So in swimming, that will indicate the stroke that they're doing. So like front crawl, breaststroke, et cetera, is represented by the letter, and then the number represents more of their impairment. I will fully admit, although I look at classification every day, I have not memorised all of the sport classes for every sport out there.

[00:19:50] Dr Christopher Brown: What do you mean you haven't memorised them all? Come on! 

[00:19:53] Janet Lawson: Swimming runs, I think from one to 13 actually. Um, with the lower numbers [00:20:00] representing athletes with higher impairments. Uh, so for example, someone with paraplegia would compete as like an S one, whereas I believe in swimming 11 through 13 are visual impairments.

[00:20:10] Track and field. Say you get T 54 would be track, uh, and then a seated athlete versus an F 54 would be a field athlete. Uh, again, who competes seated. 

[00:20:22] Dr Christopher Brown: Right. Yeah, no, I get the, um, the letter bit, that's fairly self explanatory, but where does 54 come from, for example? Is that 54 different categories and so they just happen to be the 54th, like T 54 that you were saying?

[00:20:34] Or is it just a random number that's plucked out of the air? 

[00:20:37] Janet Lawson: That's a great question that Ihave literally never thought about. I don't know. I'm assuming the numbers are random because track starts in the tens, I believe, 11, 12, 13. Then it jumps to the thirties, fifties. So they're a bit all over the place.

[00:20:52] Swimming again, keeps it, you know, one through 13 that makes sense. So, no, I haven't looked into why each [00:21:00] sport picks the numbers that they do. There are groupings of, usually you'll see. 1, 2, 3 would refer to one event or like one kind of category of impairments. 4, 5, 6 would be a different, so they'll group them similarly, but as to why the numbers are the numbers, I'm not sure. 

[00:21:17] Dr Christopher Brown: Yeah. I dunno how many, uh, how much interest listeners have with this, probably very little, but it's just, I don't know. To me as a viewer, it just sounds even more complicated by using like a bigger number. Suddenly it's 54. Like what does that mean? It's 53 others? Or where at least with swimming it's quite logical. You know, you're starting from one to 13 whereas like you said, you've got this kind of jumps that happen in athletics. So, um, yeah, I was just curious. But yeah, the key thing is the letter signifies the event and then the number is that specific class of impairment that is eligible for that particular sporting event.

[00:21:53] Okay. Thank you, Janet. In terms of eligibility, not all impairments are [00:22:00] included in the Paralympics, are they? So deafness, for example, as a primary impairment, and if it's the only impairment, an individual would not be included in the Paralympics. Why is that the case? 

[00:22:15] Janet Lawson: Right. So I believe at one time, um, individuals are who are deaf or hard of hearing were included in the Paralympic movement and then that community made the decision to leave the Paralympic programme. I believe over issues with the presence of interpreters and the number of athletes that can be represented at the Paralympics. Um, With that as well though I think we see a difference in terms of individuals who are Deaf. Not all, but some identifying as being a part of a linguistic minority group and identifying with the Deaf community that being Deaf with a capital D rather than a lower case.

[00:22:50] So it's viewed differently, and not as a disability compared to, say, someone with a spinal cord injury who uses a wheelchair daily. [00:23:00] Um, identifying as having a disability or being disabled, uh, and wanting to participate. So like anything, it's gonna be a bit of a personal decision. I'm sure that there are individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing who would like to compete in para sport. And at the local level, I'm sure that there are opportunities for them to play and have fun and participate, but within the Paralympic program, that's not on the books at this point in time. 

[00:23:23] Dr Christopher Brown: But also you could compete if you have a hearing impairment as long as you have an eligible impairment as well. That's correct, isn't it? 

[00:23:30] Janet Lawson: Yes. Yeah. 

[00:23:32] Dr Christopher Brown: Okay. Cool. All right, so I think you kind of answered this next question to an extent, so just tell me if you have and we can then move on to the next one. Some athletes, I remember watching a programme on BBC Panorama, which is a programme we have in the UK. It was talking about how one particular athlete was classified as whatever category in one particular edition of the games, and then suddenly was reclassified into a different category, which actually then made it a lot harder for that individual to compete because, [00:24:00] you know, their functional ability was maybe not as great as those other athletes.

[00:24:04] So why can you be disabled to one degree and then suddenly be disabled at another Games, or indeed not be disabled enough because I know some athletes have suddenly fallen out of the system. So why is classification not always kind of sticking to a certain perspective or agreement with, you know, what an athlete should be?

[00:24:25] Janet Lawson: So one reason could be if the classification system itself changes, for example, in 2017 or 2018, World Para Athletics reclassified all of their athletes that have cerebral palsy. So that was across the board. Everyone would've gone through another classification, and I can't say for certain, but I'm sure that some athletes had their classification changed as a result of that.

[00:24:45] The second would be, as I mentioned before, if that athlete has that review status. So if their impairment is new, if they recently, you know, in the last year or two acquired a spinal cord injury, they might be given a review status because the classifiers would like [00:25:00] to see them again in two years once they've settled into their essentially new body.

[00:25:04] Um, or if they have a condition that's going to be changing over time and they're unsure of what that athlete will present with in two or three years. And that can and does result in athletes both changing sport classes and still being able to compete. They may or may not agree with whether or not that's fair or whether or not they have the opportunity to perform in the same way as a result of that, and in some cases, that does result in them being classed out of Parasport entirely. Um, and that's certainly an area where there's not yet been a ton of research done. Dr. Andrea Bundon at UBC has looked a little bit at athlete declassification, as far as I know, or at least off the top of my head, that's the only work that I can think of at the moment, but that is an area where it's a really unique feature of Parasport that you can have someone who is proficient at the sport, wants to continue competing, but is all of a sudden told you are no longer eligible.

[00:25:57] Dr Christopher Brown: Yeah, and this is another conversation, perhaps potentially [00:26:00] with Andrea, but you know, there must be a complete change and difference in experience for the athlete. Suddenly the rug from underneath them has been pulled and they have to either adapt or pursue another venture because suddenly they can't do it.

[00:26:14] Janet Lawson: I think the biggest parallel we could draw would be an athlete leaving sport due to an injury. If someone injures themselves and there's no returning, if we look at the NBA and someone blows a knee and they can't come back from that, that would be a traumatic exit from sport. But this would parallel, but there are gonna be some unique differences with that as well.

[00:26:33] Dr Christopher Brown: Okay. And I dunno how much of your research has focused on intellectual impairments? Have you focused a little bit on that at all in terms of your research? 

[00:26:42] Janet Lawson: No, because the classification process for athletes with intellectual impairments and indeed visual impairments slightly differs. I've yet to dive into that realm.

[00:26:52] I've really focused solely on those athletes with physical impairments for the moment. 

[00:26:57] Dr Christopher Brown: For listeners who aren't aware there was a bit [00:27:00] of a scandal in the 2000 Paralympic games. The Spanish men's basketball team won gold in the intellectual impairment category, but later turned out that a lot of them, if not all of them, did not have an eligible category: they were actually essentially faking having an impairment and that then kind of led to a series of other athletes being, you know, discovered not to have an eligible impairment and obviously a big crisis in Paralympic sport because of the reasons that we talked about. Integrity is supposed to be a byproduct of classification and it led to intellectual impairment being banned from the Paralympic Games until London 2012.

[00:27:35] And so we had a situation where athletes who had an intellectual impairment were being banned because of essentially non-disabled individuals cheating. Perhaps some of the reason for that was because it's presumably a lot harder to classify athletes with an intellectual impairment. With physical impairments, it's probably easier, maybe? I don't know, I'm asking, but it seems easier to classify? 

[00:27:56] Janet Lawson: It's pretty cut and dry, right? If an athlete shows up with a [00:28:00] limb discrepancy that's gonna be there or it's not. Um, there is, there's no one way about. As for whether or not the classification process itself is any easier or more difficult?

[00:28:11] I can't say for certain, but I'm sure that there is a lot of work going on to continue to evolve that classification system and ensure that it is robust and that, like you said, there's not anyone cheating the system, that no one's being represented and included that shouldn't rightfully be there. 

[00:28:26] Dr Christopher Brown: A classification process for intellectual impairments, presumably, it's gonna be a lot more medicalised than other type of impairments would. Would that be a fair assessment? 

[00:28:35] Janet Lawson: Yeah, so, and that's why I've shied away from looking at that group specifically at this point in time. And similar with athletes with VIs, it is more based on medical assessment and documentation of the disability or impairment, whereas again, with athletes with physical impairments, you still need that documentation.

[00:28:52] But then it's more the in the room assessment by classifiers of how your physical function presents following that. 

[00:29:00] [00:29:00] 

[00:29:00] Dr Christopher Brown: Would it be fair to say that visual and intellectual impairment classification is more of a static or fixed process, as in you make the assessment medicalised wise, it's probably not gonna change huge amounts based on the athlete experience, whereas it sounds like for physical one, you do the medicalisation or the medical process, but then also you get that response feedback from the athlete in terms of their experiences. Is that a fair assessment to make? 

[00:29:28] Janet Lawson: I think so. I think I can speak maybe a little bit more to the and draw comparisons between the physical and visual impairment categories. So currently, your medical documentation for a physical impairment would result in dictating whether or not the athlete meets the minimal eligibility criteria.

[00:29:46] And then again, that classification itself indicates their sport class or what category they'll compete in. With visual impairments, traditionally, the medical assessment has resulted in yes, no, you meet the [00:30:00] minimal eligibility criteria. And then athletes have competed in, say, one of two categories, uh, within a sport like judo.

[00:30:08] But beyond that, there's not as much differentiation between the level of sight and the functionality of sight. Whereas I know judo, at least over the last number of years, has undertaken a number of studies looking at not just, and again, I can't speak to this, probably as proficiently as I would like, but not the, just the presence of vision, but visual acuity looking at how that participant's particular sight affects their performance. So I think they are looking at changing the system to more closely resemble what we would see with athletes with physical impairments. So going, yes, no, you have this visual impairment and then adding on that step of how does that actually per affect your performance?

[00:30:52] Dr Christopher Brown: Okay, great. Well, yeah, thank you for that added insight. That was definitely more useful than my rambling, so thank you for that. Yeah. Classification , as we've talked [00:31:00] about, for a variety of reasons can be contentious in Parasport. So based on your expertise and your insight, how can the classification system be improved, do you think?

[00:31:10] Janet Lawson: So continuing to develop those evidence-based classification procedures to ensure that what we're measuring is accurate and relevant to the sport, I think is important. And then I think really developing and improving the communication is within the context of classification, especially between classifiers and athletes, I think is critical for ensuring that athletes feel listened to and respected as they go through classification.

[00:31:35] And preventing classification from becoming a deterrent to participation. Um, so there's also room to say, how can we expand the classification system? Maybe not at that high performance level, but at that grassroots or developmental level to ensure that athletes see a place for themselves within Parasport, so that they can participate to bolster that community level sport programme so that other athletes who [00:32:00] maybe are eligible for high performance classification have competition, they have teammates and friends to play with and to practice with so that the whole system can grow and that we can continue to develop those high performance athletes and have other individuals participating and being active and healthy for life. 

[00:32:19] Dr Christopher Brown: Okay. And finally, if a listener is really interested in finding out more about classification, what would be your recommendations for those who are maybe a bit unsure about classification and want to learn more? What kind of resources would you recommend they utilise? 

[00:32:34] Janet Lawson: Unfortunately there aren't very many resources out there!

[00:32:44] My current work hopefully will be the answer! As a part of my doctoral dissertation, I'm looking at developing an educational resource to support athletes and coaches in learning about classification, um, and better preparing for [00:33:00] classifications.

[00:33:00] So in another year or two, hopefully there will be a nice, shiny new product that we can suggest listeners look to. But for now, you know, contacting your national sport organisation or equivalent, depending on where the listener is residing, would be the best bet to say I'm interested in this sport, here are the questions that I have. Those individuals should hopefully be able to answer your questions. Um, you can do some digging online, but I assure you I've done all the digging and you're not gonna find too much! 

[00:33:34] Dr Christopher Brown: Janet, thank you ever so much. It's been great chatting to you and learning more about the classification system.

[00:33:39] It's definitely an area I don't know as much about. So thank you for this chat, it's certainly educated me and I hope the listener has also learned more about the classification system. I look forward to catching up with you soon. 

[00:33:51] Janet Lawson: Yes. Great. Sounds good. 


*** Discussion ends ***


[00:33:53] Dr Christopher Brown: That's it. That's all we have time for. Thanks for listening to another episode of the Disability Sport Info Show.[00:34:00] 

[00:34:00] Stay tuned for another episode. Until then, goodbye. 




What is classification?
Measures to achieve fairness
Athlete inclusion in the classification process
Understanding classification as a viewer
Marginalisation of some athletes?
Alpha numeric system
Which impairments are eligible for the Paralympics?
Athletes being reclassified
Classifying athletes with intellectual impairments
Improving the classification system
End of discussion