By Mason Howe
The classification system used for British track and field Paralympians can easily be abused and manipulated, according to an UK Athletics report published earlier this week.
The four-person panel, chaired by Paralympian Anne Wafula Strike, conducted the review between November 2016 and February 2017 and released its findings on Monday. The panel concluded that, despite no evidence of widespread cheating, the current system could easily be manipulated by someone with inside knowledge. Some of the methods claimed to undermine the rules include:
- Athletes with neurological conditions arriving at classification evaluations with prior fatigue.
- Athletes altering their Medical Diagnostic Form and/or supporting evidence prior to submitting it to UKA (UK Athletics).
- Athletes presenting medical reports from doctors who are sympathetic to the athlete.
These methods would allow an athlete to compete in a lower classification and give them an unfair, and illegal, advantage over their competition. The review was launched in response to allegations that some athletes were allowed to compete against more impaired competitors at the Rio games.
St Mary’s University Professor John Brewer, one of the authors of the report, said: “There is clearly the opportunity that if someone decides to be unscrupulous and cheat the system the opportunity is there to cheat. The opportunity is there in all sports in some way or another.”
According to the report there is no format to explain why an athlete receives a certain classification and not enough unbiased national classifiers. There is also no formal process of logging any conflicts of interest the classifiers may have or a way to launch an appeal against a potentially wrong classification.
The report also claimed that the system used by UKA does not match up with that used by World Para Athletics, or WPA, which controls classifications for international competitions.
The review recommends a total overhaul of the current system including the creation of independent committee to manage appeals, improving communication between doctors and UKA and more thorough reviews into medical records ahead of the Para-athletic Championships held in London this July.
The full report can be downloaded from the UKA site