Paralympics: Fears of prevalent classification cheating

A Sao Paulo resident carrying the Paralympic torch through the streets of her city upon the flame's arrival on Sunday. The Rio Paralympic Games will be held from Sept 7-18.
A Sao Paulo resident carrying the Paralympic torch through the streets of her city upon the flame's arrival on Sunday. The Rio Paralympic Games will be held from Sept 7-18.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RIO DE JANEIRO • The Paralympics will open tomorrow amid fears of widespread cheating as the authorities struggle to prove cases of "intentional misrepresentation" in swimming.

Great Britain's athletics team will also take to the track in Rio de Janeiro under a cloud after Bethany Woodward, a sprinter with cerebral palsy, withdrew from the squad alleging that athletes with less severe disabilities were being allowed to compete in her classification.

But fears of athletes cheating the system are greater in swimming, where the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) recently investigated 16 cases of alleged intentional misrepresentation - known simply as "IM" - where athletes exaggerate the extent of their disability during the classification process.

The IPC was, however, unable to find sufficient evidence to prove that cheating had occurred.

In particular, there are suspicions of a widespread practice involving competitors swimming slower times during their classification process than they will later record in competition, in the hope that they will be categorised with more-disabled swimmers.

"Whether we like it or not, we have to prove intent to a standard that can be upheld against legal challenge," Peter van de Vliet, the IPC's medical and scientific director, said.

"There is a significant concern of attempts from athletes to bypass the system. But the threshold to prove these cases beyond any reasonable doubt is very high."

All athletes should have had classifications verified in the season leading up to the Games, but the IPC has a watchlist of those athletes who may be on the cusps of two classifications, with an estimated 1 per cent likely to have their classifications verified in the next few days.

"It is a continuous work in progress and when concerns are raised to us, we have an obligation to address them," van de Vliet said.

The most notorious example of classification cheating in Paralympic involved the Spain basketball team, who were stripped of their gold medal after the Sydney Games when 10 of the 12 players in their squad were found to have exaggerated the extent of their intellectual impairments.

Para-swimming has been rife with rumours of IM for several years and classifications can be more controversial because of the range of impairments within a class.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2016, with the headline 'Fears of prevalent classification cheating'. Print Edition | Subscribe