A sport class is a category which groups athletes together for competition 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 comprised 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 1,500m wheelchair racing performance.
In individual sports, athletes compete against athletes in their own sport class to ensure the impact of impairment is minimized. 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, athletes in different sport classes may be given a ‘coefficient’ or correction score to account for the different levels of activity limitation.
Some Para sports only have only one sport class, such as pPara powerlifting. To compete in these sports, the athletes only need to meet the minimum impairment criteria.
In team sports, the players are allocated points, which indicate their activity limitation. A lower score indicates a more severe activity limitation than a higher score. A team is not allowed to have more than a certain maximum sum of points on the field of play at the same time in order to ensure equal competition with the opposing team.
A sport class is allocated through athlete evaluation by a group of classifiers. Each International Federation (IF) trains and certifies classifiers to conduct athlete evaluation in its sport.
Classifiers assessing athletes with an eligible physical impairment have a medical background or are technical experts in their sport.
Classifiers for athletes with a visual impairment have a background in ophthalmology or optometry. Psychologists and sport experts are responsible for the classification of athletes with an intellectual impairment.
Athlete Evaluation takes place before competitions. Therefore, athletes who need to be classified arrive at the competition a few days early.
Depending on the type and severity of the impairment an athlete might undergo athlete evaluation several times throughout his or her career. Some impairments change over time, e.g. visual acuity might decrease over time or hypertonia may increase. Also, junior athletes may not yet have reached skeletal maturity by the time of first classification (e.g. in Para swimming). In these cases, classifiers can decide that the athlete has to be seen again at the next competition or at set timeframes (e.g. (bi-) annual review). Athlete evaluation at a competition may encompass the following:
- An assessment of whether or not the Para athlete has an Eligible Impairment for the relevant sport
- An assessment of whether or not an Athlete complies with Minimum Impairment Criteria for the relevant sport
- An assessment and evaluation of the extent to which the Athlete is able to execute the specific tasks and activities fundamental to the sport
- If required, the conduct of Observation in Competition Assessment
- The allocation of a Sport Class and designation of a Sport Class Status
Athletes have the right to challenge a decision taken by classification panels. The IPC Classification Code defines protest and appeal opportunities, which need to be adhered to by each sport.