Rio 2016: Classification row is another blow to Paralympics

Team GB sprinter quits Games in protest amid accusations of 'intentional misrepresentation' of disabilities in some sports

Brittany Woodward
Bethany Woodward quit Team GB on the eve of the Rio Paralympics
(Image credit: Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

The Paralympics begin in Rio this week, but the opening ceremony could be overshadowed by claims that some athletes have been misrepresenting their disabilities in order to improve their medal chances.

Over the weekend it emerged that sprinter Bethany Woodward had quit Team GB on the eve of the Games and given up her funding in order to speak out about the issue.

Woodward told the Sunday Times that "she no longer believed in Team GB because more able-bodied athletes were being put into the same categories as more seriously disabled athletes".

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The 23-year-old, who has cerebral palsy and won silver in the 200m at London 2012, said: "I represented my country for a long time but if I can't compete like I used to compete, because they've brought in people who are not like me in terms of disability, what's the point?"

There have been concerns about incorrect classifications within UK Athletics for two years, reports The Guardian.

"Participants in Paralympic events are grouped into categories according to the degree of their disability so that competitions are fair, but concerns across all Paralympic sports about incorrect categorisation have been increasing globally as the sport has developed," it explains.

The International Paralympic Committee has denied the claims. "All athletes who take part in international competition have all been classified internationally by an independent panel and we are confident and happy they are in the correct class to compete," it said.

However, the Times reports that the IPC has recently been looking into 16 allegations of "intentional misrepresentation" in swimming. "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," says the paper.

"While the spectre of doping hung over showpiece events at the Olympics, leading athletes to question whether their rivals were clean and spectators to wonder whether they could believe what they were watching, the classification controversy is now threatening the integrity of the Paralympic Games."

The controversy is the latest blow to the Paralympics, which have been hit by cutbacks after the organisers were forced to divert funds to the Olympics. The Paralympics have also suffered poor ticket sales and a political row over the exclusion of the Russian team because of the country's state-sponsored doping programme.

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