Why Vinod Kumar lost discus bronze and how athletes are classified for Paralympics
India’s tally at the Tokyo Paralympics was lowered by one medal after discus thrower Vinod Kumar was deemed to be ineligible in disability classification reassessment by the organisers. That happened after the result of the discus event was challenged by some competitors. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) says that “classification is the cornerstone” of the event and “determines which athletes are eligible to compete in a sport and how athletes are grouped together for competition”. Here’s all you need to know.
Why Was Vinod Kumar Docked His Medal?
The 41-year-old athlete had bagged the bronze at Tokyo with a 19.91m throw on August 29, finishing behind Piotr Kosewicz (20.02m) of Poland and Velimir Sandor (19.98m) of Croatia.
While the classification process for Kumar is reported to have been completed on August 22, prior to the opening of the Paralympics, the F52 categorisation given to him was challenged following his event. A review of eligibility led to the cancellation of his medal with organisers saying that they were “unable to allocate the athlete… with a sport class and the athlete was designated as Classification not Completed (CNC)”.
“The athlete is therefore ineligible for the Men’s F52 discus medal event and his results in that competition are void,” a statement by the Technical Delegates at the Paralympics said.
News agency PTI added that the F52 category is for athletes with impaired muscle power, restricted range of movement, limb deficiency or leg length difference, with athletes competing in seated positions with cervical cord injury, spinal cord injury, amputation, and functional disorder.
How Does Classification Work?
Participants at the Paralympics have an alphanumeric or classification code against their names. This is their classification category. For example, Kumar’s was F25. The F stands for ‘field’ while the number denotes the level of impairment — “the lower the number within each impairment type, the more severe the impairment”.
Similar classifications exist for all the disciplines that are featured at the Paralympics. The Tokyo edition has a total participant count of around 4,400 athletes who are to compete in 539 medal events. At 54 athletes, India has sent its biggest contingent ever to a Paralympics. The Indian athletes are competing in a total of nine disciplines.
Bhavina Patel, who won a table tennis silver, was placed in Class 4. Classes 1-5 are for wheelchair-bound athletes while classes 6-10 are for standing athletes. Class 11 is for athletes with intellectual impairment. Here, too, the lower the number, the greater the impact the impairment has on an athlete’s ability to compete.
Why Are Athletes Classified?
The basic idea behind classifying athletes based on the type and severity of their impairment is to prevent “one-sided and predictable competition, in which the least impaired athlete always wins”, IPC says. Just like the grouping for athletes by gender, age or weight, in para sports, “athletes are grouped by the degree of activity limitation resulting from the impairment”.
To give sporting excellence the foremost role in paralympic performance, the classification system is designed to ensure “that athletes do not succeed simply because they have an impairment that causes less of a disadvantage than their competitors, but because of their skill, determination, tactics, fitness and preparation”. This is achieved, first, by an assessment of athletes and then placing them into categories called sport classes based on how much their impairment affects sports performance.
What Are The Grounds For Classification?
The IPC says that athletes’ assessment seeks to answer three basic questions: does the athlete have an eligible impairment for the said sport; does the impairment meet the minimum impairment criteria for the sport; and which sport class should the athlete be placed in “based on the extent to which the athlete is able to execute the specific tasks and activities fundamental to the sport?”
Thus, to participate in the Paralympics, an athlete has to first have an “underlying health condition that leads to a permanent eligible impairment”. There is a total of 10 impairment types recognised by IPC and an athlete to be eligible must fulfil the conditions for any one of them.
The 10 eligible impairments can be placed into three distinct groups: physical impairments make up eight of the 10 impairments and cover those that put limitations on activity like impaired muscle power, impaired range of movement, limb deficiency, leg length difference, hypertonia, ataxia, athetosis, and short stature. Vision impairment is also recognised as is intellectual impairment with each paralympic sport required to define what type of impairment would be eligible in competition.
After an athlete is deemed to have an eligible impairment, it is ascertained whether she meets the Minimum Impairment Criteria (MIC) for a sport because, while “the presence and permanency of one of the sport’s eligible impairments is a prerequisite to participate in para sport, [it’s] not the sole criterion”. The MIC is to ensure that an athlete’s impairment “affects the extent to which the athlete is able to execute the specific tasks and activities fundamental to the sport”. Thus, it could mean a maximum height stipulation for athletes with short stature, or the level of amputation for athletes with limb deficiency. The MIC are specific for each sport
After meeting the MIC comes the part where the athletes sports class is determined. The sports class works to group athletes with a similar level of impairment “so that they can compete equitably”. Since, the sports class is based on the extent of limitation faced by an athlete, it is not always the case that those with the same type of impairment compete in the same event.
“If different impairments cause similar activity limitation, athletes with these impairments are allowed to compete together, IPC says, pointing out how “in athletics wheelchair racing events, you will see athletes with paraplegia and leg amputations racing together”.