Classification abuse claims hit British para-swimmers

LONDON • The crisis facing the Paralympic movement over alleged abuse of the classification system deepened on Wednesday, as British swimming was rocked by claims that athletes are deliberately exaggerating their disability in order to win more medals.

Mark Hanson, whose daughter Levana is a British swimmer, claimed one athlete's father bought a wheelchair on eBay so his child, whom Hanson claimed had always walked unaided, could hoodwink classifiers.

Tanni Grey-Thompson, Britain's former wheelchair racer-turned-parliamentarian, described intentional misrepresentation as akin to doping in Olympic sport.

A Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee was told some of Britain's most high-profile Paralympic track and field athletes, including five-time Paralympic champion Hannah Cockroft and Paralympic and triple world sprint champion Sophie Hahn, had misrepresented their disability.

Both Cockroft and Hahn strongly refute any suggestion they have cheated the system. However, several parents of swimmers on the elite British Para-Swimming pathway claimed abuse of classification extends to their sport.

Hanson submitted a statement to MPs, which has been seen by The Guardian, in which he recounts an incident he witnessed during a classification assessment.

"A swimmer we have known for over five years was being pushed in a wheelchair by a member of the British Swimming management team," he said. "At no time was this swimmer challenged as to why they were in the wheelchair and as soon as receiving their status the wheelchair was not seen again, but this swimmer can be seen on videos jumping up and down poolside or running up and down the stairs in the stands."

Hanson, whose daughter had both legs amputated after contracting meningitis as a baby, said he had also seen swimmers doing strenuous workouts immediately before classification, which is against International Paralympic Committee guidelines, and taking cold showers to help stiffen their muscles before being examined.

He claimed British Swimming warns those who speak up that they risk losing team places.

Grey-Thompson said that, during interviews for a report on bullying she authored for the DCMS, other athletes had noted the possibility of deselection as a reason for not publicly raising concerns to governing bodies.

Hanson claimed the issue was happening all over the world, particularly in Britain and Australia, where Paralympic funding has rocketed in the past two decades.

British Swimming said it would not comment on individual classification cases but added in a statement that officials "work closely with World Para Swimming to ensure that British swimmers understand the potential consequences of misrepresenting their disability during the classification process".

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 03, 2017, with the headline 'Classification abuse claims hit British para-swimmers'. Print Edition | Subscribe