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Paralympic Classifications Explained

Paralympic Classifications Explained

Ever wondered what the Paralympic Classifications mean, well here's a simple guide.



The International Paralympic Committee explain classification provides a structure for competition. Athletes competing in Para sports have an impairment that leads to a competitive disadvantage. The system in place to aims minimise the impact of impairments on sport performance and to ensure the success of an athlete is determined by skill, fitness, power, endurance, tactical ability and mental focus.

Classification determines who is eligible to compete in a Para sport and it groups the eligible athletes in sport classes according to their activity limitation in a certain sport.

The Paralympic Movement offers sport opportunities for athletes with physical, vision and/or intellectual impairments that have at least one of the 10 eligible impairments identified.

1. Impaired muscle power

2. Impaired passive range of movement

3. Limb deficiency

4. Leg length difference

5. Short stature

6. Hypertonia - an increase in muscle tension and a reduced ability of a muscle to stretch caused by damage to the central nervous system.

7. Ataxia - uncoordinated movements caused by damage to the central nervous system.

8. Athetosis - continual slow involuntary movements

9. Vision impairment (VI)

10. Intellectual Impairment

Classification systems differ by sport and are developed by the International Federations (IF) governing the sport. 

IFs decide which eligible impairments their sport will cater for. Some Paralympic sports are only designed for athletes with one eligible impairment type. Goalball, for example, is only open to athletes with a vision impairment. Other sports, such as athletics and swimming, are open to athletes with any of the 10 eligible impairments.


What about sport classes?

A sport class is a category which groups athletes depending on how much their impairment impacts performance in their sport. Therefore, a sport class is not necessarily comprised of one impairment type alone, but can be made up of athletes with different impairments. However, these different impairments affect sport performance to a similar extent. For example, you will find athletes with paraplegia and double above-knee amputation competing in the same sport class in athletics because their different impairments have a comparable effect on their ability to race 1,500m in a wheelchair using arm propulsion.

In individual sports, athletes should compete against athletes in their own sport class to ensure the impact of impairment is minimised. In national events and smaller international competitions athletes in different sport classes may compete together for one medal, because there are not enough athletes for each sport class to create a competitive event. In these cases, and in some sports, athletes in different sport classes are given a ‘coefficient’ or correction score to account for the different levels of activity limitation.


How is an athlete classified?

A sport class is allocated through athlete evaluation by a panel of classifiers. Each International Federation trains and certifies classifiers to conduct athlete evaluation in its sport. Classifiers assessing athletes with the various physical impairments listed above either have a medical or paramedical background and/or are technical experts in their sport. Classifiers for athletes with a vision impairment have a background in ophthalmology or optometry. Psychologists and sport experts are responsible for the classification of athletes with an intellectual impairment.


Want to know more, check out the IPC Explanatory Guide.