Sports

Who can compete in the Paralympics and what do the classifications mean?

Hot off the heels of a successful Olympics despite all the difficulties of holding such an event during a pandemic, the Paralympic Games is here until September 5.

Starting with a handful of injured British World War II veterans in 1948, the first official Paralympics was held in 1960 and was open to non-soldiers for the first time.

Rome 1960 saw 400 athletes from 23 countries with disabilities compete, now it attracts thousands of the world’s finest from all around the globe.

The hugely successful Games have been held parallel to the Olympics since 1960, but there are rules on who can compete against each other.



Tully Kearney of Team Great Britain celebrates winning the silver medal in the women’s 200m Freestyle – S5.

How do Paralympic classifications work?

The complex system of classification is aimed at ensuring athletes with similar levels of impairment are grouped together in events.

Its mission is to establish winners of events due to “skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus” and not through being less impaired than their competitors.



The Tokyo Paralympics Opening Ceremony, which took place this afternoon, Cork time.
How do Paralympic classifications work?

Classes are determined by assessors who allocate which group Paralympians compete. For example, swimmers will be given the prefix ‘S’ then a number which corresponds to their level of impairment. A Cyclist would be given ‘C’ then a number and a track athlete ‘T’ followed by a number.

Accessors are appointed by the international governing body of each sport and take place before and during the Games.

As many impairments can worsen or improve during events, classification can change throughout a competitor’s career.

The classification system has often been criticised as a system open to manipulation, while others say it is the best method the Games has.

Who can compete in the Paralympics?

According to the International Paralympic Committee, eligible impairments to compete in the Games are:

  • Impaired muscle power
  • Involuntary movements
  • Impaired passive range of movement
  • Muscle tension
  • Limb deficiency
  • Uncoordinated movements
  • Leg length difference
  • Short stature
  • Intellectual impairment
  • Vision impairment

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