As the countdown to the Incheon 2014 Asian Para Games intensifies, the classification teams are diligently stepping up operations because without their stamp of approval the athletes will not have a fair chance at competing.
Classification is carried out before the start of any sports event for athletes with disabilities. This process allows athletes with similar disabilities to be placed in particular categories so that they can compete on an equitable playing field.
“Each International Federation (IF) has its own set of rules and regulations for competition and international classifiers are trained and licensed to meet these requirements for each sport,” said Datuk Dr. Rokiah Omar, Classification Director for the Asian Paralympic Committee (APC).
APC enlists internationally-certified classifiers through the respective IFs for all its sanctioned events but the number of classifiers depends on the number of athletes registered to compete.
“It depends on the sport as well. For example, for cycling there will usually be three classifiers. A medical doctor, a physiotherapist and a technical expert to assess the equipment used. For visual disability, there will usually be two. An ophthalmologist to look into the pathology of the athlete and an optometrist to look into the functional aspect,” explained Datuk Dr. Rokiah.
For the Incheon 2014 Asian Para Games 96 internationally-certified classifiers, of whom 20 are chief classifiers, will oversee the 22 sports being competed. More than half of these classifiers are from Asia.
Classification rules are formulated based on the context of each sport and by taking into account the different disabilities of the athletes to allow for fair competition. A classifier requires in depth knowledge and training to be able to assess each athlete properly and categorise them accurately. The task can be challenging especially when an athlete has multiple or complex disabilities.
Dr. Victor Feizal Knight, APC Classification Coordinator, explained, “Because each type of disability is unique, classification is an attempt to put the athletes into a group of their peers for meaningful competition. That is why we now have minimum qualification standards that the athletes must meet before they are entered into competition.”
This also puts to rest the common misconception that athletes with disabilities have it easy, especially when compared to able-bodied athletes. “For each class, the athletes are competing with others who have similar functional disabilities and therefore, it is the same level of competition and very fair,” said Dr. Victor.
He continued, “These athletes may have been dealt a raw deal in life but when they compete, their joy is not purely from winning. Whoever watching will realise that the look of joy on their faces is from overcoming their disability as well as winning.”